THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
Winner's Share: $1,845M
FedEx Cup Points: 600 to the Winner
Location: Southport, England
Course: Royal Birkdale Golf Club
2016 champion: Henrik Stenson
The 146th Open Championship will be contested at Royal Birkdale, a course with enormous golf history though not much recently. Hard by the Irish Sea in Northwest England, Birkdale will play host to the Open for the 10th time, and there have been some historic moments. Arnold Palmer won in 1961, as did Johnny Miller in 1976 and Tom Watson in 1983. But the Open has been contested at Birkdale only three times since Watson's win, most recently 2008, when Padraig Harrington successfully defended his title. That tournament was dominated by weather, both wind and rain, leaving Harrington with the winning score of 3-over, by far the highest in the nine Birkdale Opens. The only score close is Mark O'Meara's even-par in 1998, also weather-induced.
A lot of people are wondering whether we'll see such high scores again, and really, it's all about the weather. In more benign conditions in the 2013 Senior Open Championship, the winning score was 9-under. Right now the forecast for this year calls for some showers Friday through Sunday, but the real concern will be the very windy conditions across all four days.
Birkdale has some of the narrowest fairways in the Open rotation, putting a premium on driving accuracy. The wind will make accuracy that much harder. None other than John Daly, appearing on the Golf Channel on Monday night, stressed the importance of finding the fairways at Birkdale. Dustin Johnson said he might hit only four drivers, and the rest 2- and 3-irons.
As a par 70, Birkdale features only two par-5s, both late on the more scorable back nine, at 15 and 17. Par has changed through the years in response to golf's technological advances, at one time being 73 before making its way down to where it is today (so even the lower winning scores at prior Birkdale Opens wouldn't be so low if played as a par-70).
A final word about the weather: As we get closer to Thursday morning, keep checking the forecast. The Open starts everyone on the first tee, creating an enormously long day with some nine hours from the first group to the last. If they can pinpoint severe weather to the morning or afternoon, then you could accordingly tilt your lineups before the lock. Right now, it's hard to see an early or late advantage.
Key Stats to Winning at Royal Birkdale
• Driving Accuracy/SG: Off-the-Tee
• Greens in Regulation/Strokes Gained: Approach
• Scrambling/Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green
• Bogey Avoidance
2016 - Henrik Stenson
2015 - Zach Johnson
2014 - Rory McIlroy
2013 - Phil Mickelson
2012 - Ernie Els
2011 - Darren Clarke
2010 - Louis Oosthuizen
2009 - Stewart Cink
2008 - Padraig Harrington
2007 - Padraig Harrington
While driving accuracy and other on-the-course factors will be paramount in determining who will hoist the Claret Jug, it's hard to ignore these other numbers: Eight of the last 10 Open winners have been 35 or older, and five of the past six have been 39 or older. The Open is unlike any other tournament in the world. Experience matters. And even for the two recent winners under 35, Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen had already played multiple Opens. The fairways are pretty flat at Birkdale, so golfers must take advantage and find the greens with their second shot (after finding the fairway with their first). The green surfaces are not all that complex, to the point that we're leaving putting out of our key stats; it's not that good putting won't matter, it's that we feel someone can win even with lesser putting. Patience will be key on a course that may not give many birdie chances. That's why we're putting more weight on bogey avoidance than birdie or better. A champion could also be someone who was in the field at the Irish and/or Scottish Opens. Very few PGA Tour golfers made their way over ahead of time for the two tuneup events, costing themselves valuable prep time. Even those who may have played two rounds and missed a cut will have an edge.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Sergio Garcia - $10,600 (15-1)
Garcia is the No. 5 price on the DraftKings board and the co-No. 4 choice on golfodds.com. We like him better than Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm for various reasons: either they are not on form or too pricey at at least $11,000 or both. Garcia has the perfect game to succeed in the wind and rain of Birkdale: straight off the tee (ranked 30th in driving accuracy) with a low ball flight. The Spaniard has excelled through the years at the Open, with seven top-10s, including top-6s each of the past three years.
Justin Rose - $10,300 (15-1)
Rose is one of the few golfers to have played two Opens at Birkdale, becoming an overnight sensation in 1998 when he tied for fourth as a 17-year-old amateur. He turned pro the next day. Rose hasn't done much stateside since finishing runner-up to Garcia at the Masters, but he did tie for 12th at the BMW PGA and for fourth at the Irish Open. Rose does not have quite the Open track record that Garcia has, but he has cashed top-25 the past three years.
Tommy Fleetwood - $9,800 (20-1)
We're not quite as high on Fleetwood as many others are this week. It's hard to jump in with both feet for a guy who's played the Open Championship three times and missed the cut all three. But there's no denying the Englishman is having a terrific year. He has two wins, including the recent French Open; he was runner-up at the WGC-Mexico; and he played in the final group at the U.S. Open before tying for fourth. Birkdale is a home game for the Southport native, something many gamers are latching on to. We wonder about the pressure playing with the weight of an entire town on your shoulders.
Henrik Stenson - $9,600 (25-1)
Just a couple of months back, Stenson would not have been a pick. But after missing a third cut in a row at the Masters, Stenson tied for 16th at The Players, touching off a run more befitting the defending Open champion. He did miss the cut at the U.S. Open, but he tied for third at the BMW PGA and for 10th at the BMW International before tying for 26th last week in Scotland. Of course, the Swede's low, boring ball flight is perfect for Birkdale, where he tied for third back in 1998.
Tier 2 Values
Hideki Matsuyama - $9,300 (20-1)
Like Stenson, Matsuyama endured a rough stretch earlier in the season. But the world No. 2 tied for 11th at the Masters and was runner-up at the U.S. Open. Matsuyama is one of the best golfers tee-to-green (eighth in SG: OTT and seventh tee-to-green), and he could be good enough to win without great putting.
Rickie Fowler - $9,200 (15-1)
Fowler tied for fifth at the U.S. Open and ninth last week at the Scottish Open, two tournaments in which a stronger Sunday performance could've netted a win. So while we don't have the best feeling about a Fowler victory, we don't need a victory to justify spending $9,200. Surprisingly, 10 golfers are priced higher than Fowler. But few can match his game when it's all clicking, excelling tee-to-green and also on the green itself.
Adam Scott - $8,500 (25-1)
Scott is a forgotten man this season. He hasn't really contended for a title, and he has only 12 worldwide starts in 2017. But he notched top-10s at the Masters and The Players, and traditionally does well at the Open Championship. Scott tied for 43rd last year at Royal Troon, but before that recorded four successive top-10s. The Aussie is 31st in SG: OTT and 11th tee-to-green. Plus he's a not-too-shabby 55th in strokes gained putting. Also, give Scott a bonus for playing the Scottish Open, in which he tied for 35th.
Paul Casey - $8,100 (30-1)
Casey is bound to be a popular pick, but there's good reason for that: He's playing well, he's played well through the years at the Open and he's got an affordable price. Casey's best Open finishes came a few years back -- such as his T7 at Royal Birkdale in 2008. But he's been so steady lately, not missing a cut since January, that he's hard to ignore. Casey is 43rd in driving accuracy and third in GIR, plus ninth in SG: Tee-to-Green. He hasn't played since the Travelers, but he's also more familiar with links golf than most PGA Tour players.
Tier 3 Values
Branden Grace - $8,000 (40-1)
Grace is making a habit of performing well in big tournaments. Though that has yet to carry over to the Open Championship, the South African is 6-for-6 in cuts made. His lone top-20 was two years ago. Grace has made eight straight worldwide cuts, including a T15 last week in Scotland.
Alex Noren - $7,800 (40-1)
Noren has been tearing up the European Tour for the past couple of years. That success has yet to translate to the Open Championship, where he has only one career top-10 (2010). He does have a second top-20, and that came at Birkdale in 2008. Yes, Noren has been around a long time but has only recently gotten good. The Swede is way down on the list of driving accuracy leaders on the European Tour, but he still finds a way to succeed. He's got four top-15s in his past six starts, including another win at the BMW PGA. Really, this price is too good not to take a flyer on the No. 9 golfer in the OWGR. Even a top-20 would be a great result.
Zach Johnson - $7,600 (80-1)
There's no denying that Johnson's game has lost something the past couple of years. There's also no denying that he still plays well at the John Deere and the Open Championship. Coming off a T5 at the Deere, Johnson heads to Birkdale riding top-16 cashes five of the past six years, and of course he won it all just two years ago. Johnson is among the most accurate off the tee, ranked 11th on the PGA Tour, and he'll be among the golfers most helped by Birkdale taking the driver out of play on many holes.
Bernd Wiesberger - $7,600 (100-1)
Wiesberger has not missed a cut since the PGA Championship. That's almost a year ago. That's 26 straight made cuts. He won against a weaker field in China earlier this year, but he also finished top-16 at both The Players and U.S. Open. He's among the more accurate Euros, ranked 21st in greens in regulation. The Austrian is now up to 29th in the world.
Padraig Harrington - $7,200 (125-1)
Being the 2008 champion at Birkdale is not enough to tab Harrington. He was enduring a disastrous 2017, and that was before getting whacked on his elbow at Memphis, forcing his withdrawal pre-tournament. After fearing a severe injury, Harrington is 3-for-3 in made cuts since his return, tying for 17th at the Travelers, 42nd at the Irish Open and fourth in Scotland. So he's playing well, and we all know how Harrington performs in extreme weather. He's made the cut in four of the past five Opens.
Andy Sullivan - $7,000 (100-1)
The Englishman has not had the finest of years, falling from 44th to 66th in the OWGR. But he has played better of late, making his past 10 worldwide cuts, including four-top-20s in his past five starts. Sullivan was T9 last week in Scotland. He's played the Open only twice: T30 two years ago and T12 last year.
Steve Stricker- $6,900 (150-1)
Stricker hasn't played the Open Championship much the past few years, but his T4 last year got him invited back. Top-25s at the Open used to be fairly regular for the now 50-year-old, including a T8 at Birkdale in 2008. We all know how straight Stricker hits the ball, and his game has been played at a very high level the past few months, with twin T16s at both the Masters and U.S. Open. That surge has moved him back inside the top-100 in the OWGR, up to No. 75.
Ryan Fox - $6,600 (250-1)
Fox is a 30-year-old New Zealander who plays on the European Tour. And lately, he's played quite well, with twin T4s at the Irish and Scottish Opens the past two weeks, and a solo sixth the week before at the French Open. When looking for long shots, three top-10s in a row is a pretty good place to start. Fox has played the Open only once before, tying for 49th two years ago. His recent run has moved him inside the top-100 in the OWGR for the first time, to 95th.