Previewing the Open Championship

By Cameron DaSilva | Posted 1 year ago

It’s fitting that the 150th playing of the Open Championship will take place at the home of golf: The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. The oldest major championship once again features a field that’s loaded with talent – maybe more than before. And for as many young guns as there are now, Tiger Woods and several other experienced players who have won here before will also be teeing it up.


Looking at the field of 156 players, it’s tough to narrow down the top contenders to just the 20 best. But it’s a nice blend of players without a major win, and those who have won multiple in their careers. At the top of the list is someone who hasn’t won one since 2014, searching to end that shocking dry spell in Scotland this week. 


20. Tiger Woods


Woods hasn’t played since withdrawing in the third round of the PGA Championship in May. He took off the U.S. Open in preparation for the Open Championship, knowing he’d have a much better chance to contend at the flat St. Andrews instead of the hilly Country Club in Brookline. Knowing how much easier this course will be to walk, and given his familiarity with the Old Course, Woods could find himself in the mix on Sunday. After all, he made the cut in the first two majors he played this season. 


19. Justin Rose


Rose has made the cut in The Open every year since 2014, always seeming to play well on links courses. In 2015 when this championship was played at St. Andrews, he tied for sixth. It’s been up-and-down for Rose this season, but he tied for 13th at the PGA Championship, fourth at the RBC Canadian Open and 37th at the U.S. Open. A third-round 78 doomed him at the Scottish Open, otherwise sitting only 1-over par in his other three rounds combined. 


18. Tyrrell Hatton


Hatton played well at the Scottish Open, tying for 24th at even par. He’s only missed the cut twice all year and has contended at the Open Championship before, as recently as 2019 when he tied for sixth. As long as he can keep his cool and not get too frustrated by outside elements like the wind and weather, he’ll remain in contention with his shot shaping and creativity, which are both required on any links-style course. 


17. Joaquin Niemann


Niemann is on the verge of becoming a star and his game fits the Old Course well. St. Andrews doesn’t require precise accuracy off the tee, but instead it asks players to hit smart shots around the green and penetrating into the wind. Niemann is good in both areas and his ball striking from the fairway will prove to be a difference-maker this week.


16. Dustin Johnson


DJ doesn’t have the same allure as a major contender since joining LIV Golf, but he can still play – even if he hasn’t played in a non-major on the PGA Tour since finishing T-59 at the AT&T Byron Nelson. It’s been a shaky season for Johnson since the calendar flipped to May, missing the cut at the PGA Championship and going T-24 at the U.S. Open. He hits the ball high and is an excellent iron player, but his putting has been a weakness. Fortunately, he can get away with just average putting here if he doesn’t three-putt.


15. Max Homa


Homa has two wins already this year and finally contended in a major for the first time in his career at the PGA Championship when he finished T-13. He has an all-around solid game, from driving it well off the tee to his approaches into greens to his putting. Overall, he ranks 13th on tour in total strokes gained and 23rd tee-to-green. He tied for 40th in his Open debut last year.


14. Collin Morikawa


Morikawa struggled at the Scottish Open again, missing the cut for the second straight year. Last year, he went on to win the Open Championship in his debut one week after the Scottish Open, so this year’s result isn't an indication of how he’ll play at St. Andrews. If the winds are calm, Morikawa will have an advantage over the rest of the field with his irons because there may not be a better ball striker in the world. 


13. Justin Thomas


Thomas hasn’t had the best results at the Open, making the cut just three of five times and finishing inside the top 30 just once (T-11 in 2019). That shouldn’t deter anyone from picking him to win because when it comes to flighting the ball low and shaping it as needed, there’s no one ahead of Thomas. Ignore the fact that he missed the cut by a mile last week in the Scottish Open. He’s still a premier player with the chops to win this great championship.


12. Tommy Fleetwood


Fleetwood has been excellent in the Open since 2017, finishing 2nd, 12th, 27th and 33rd in his last four trips. He tied for 4th at the Scottish Open last week, getting progressively better as the week went on: 73, 69, 67, 67. He’s trending in the right direction and now gets to play an event he’s excelled in, which should continue the hot streak he’s currently on.


11. Cameron Smith


 Smith missed the cut at the U.S. Open after finishing T-48 the week prior, seemingly starting a downward trend for him. But Smith tied for 10th at the Scottish Open, a good sign as he gets set to play his fifth Open Championship, making the cut three times in four tries with a T-20 being his best finish. With wide-open fairways, Smith will have some wiggle room off the tee, which has been a trouble spot for him lately.


10. Patrick Cantlay


Cantlay quietly finished fourth in the Scottish Open, continuing a similarly strong stretch of play to the one we saw late last year. In his last seven starts, he’s made six cuts, has four top-fives and six top-15 finishes. So, every week he’s made the cut since early April, he’s been in contention. He missed the cut at the Open last year but he does have a T-12 on his resume from 2018, so he knows how to play links golf. 


9. Tony Finau


It’s easy to like Finau this week. He’s played the Open Championship five times, made the cut each time and has four top-20 finishes with nothing worse than a T-27. He’s also playing well coming in, tying for 13th at the Travelers Championship and posting two top-fives in his previous three starts. He’s a powerful player but his iron play from the fairway will give him an edge this week.


8. Scottie Scheffler 


Scheffler’s flame hasn’t burned out yet, despite missing the cut at the Scottish Open. He had four straight top-20s prior to that and tied for second at the U.S. Open thanks to a final-round 67. In his debut at the Open last year, he tied for eighth, though he doesn’t have a ton of experience playing links golf. His game translates to all courses, however, which makes him a nice fit at St. Andrews.


7. Xander Schauffele


Schauffele is the hottest player in the world, winning his last two starts at the Travelers and Scottish Open. He’s never missed the cut in four Open starts, finishing tied for 26th last year with a career-best T-2 coming in 2018. He didn’t seem to mind windy conditions last week and is an excellent ball striker, so he should be in contention on the weekend. There’s really no true weakness to his game.


6. Matt Fitzpatrick 


Fitzpatrick won the U.S. Open, navigating The Country Club with relative ease – especially in the final round. This is a different type of tournament with wide-open landscapes, but Fitzpatrick can win on both styles of courses. He’s second in total strokes gained, third around the green and third tee-to-green. I could see him going back-to-back in the majors, which would be an incredible feat.


5. Jordan Spieth


Spieth loves this championship, or at least he should. He’s played it eight times, finished in the top 10 four times and never missed the cut. He tied for fourth in 2015 when it was played at the Old Course, so he knows how to navigate this tricky course. That’s a key part of winning here: course knowledge. His short game is excellent and he’s rock-solid approaching greens, two key factors in the Open.


4. Jon Rahm


Rahm missed the cut in his first start this season but hasn’t again since. That was last September. However, despite his cut-making ability, he hasn’t exactly contended much recently. That makes it easy to forget just how good he is when he’s on. He’s arguably the best driver of the golf ball and hits piercing iron shots, which helped him tie for third in last year’s Open. He has the game to win anywhere, but especially at St. Andrews.  


3. Shane Lowry


Lowry has been a mixed bag in the Open, winning it in 2019 and cracking the top 15 two other times, but also missing the cut four straight years from 2015-2018. He’s played really well all season, aside from his MC at the U.S. Open, which was more an anomaly than an indication of how he’s performed this year. I expect him to be near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.


2. Will Zalatoris


Zalatoris lost the PGA Championship in a playoff and finished one shot back of Matt Fitzpatrick at the U.S. Open, barely missing a birdie putt on the 72nd hole. He already has six top-10s in the majors, and even though he’s never completed a tournament at the Open Championship, withdrawing in his debut last year, his iron play and driver will work anywhere. He’s bound to break through soon.


1. Rory McIlroy


McIlroy is the betting favorite to win this week, and it makes sense. He’s been in contention in every major this year, won the RBC Canadian Open and has a strong track record in this championship: one win and three other top-fives. In 2010, when this was played at St. Andrews, he tied for third despite shooting an 80 in the second round. His length will make these shorter par 4s much easier, and now that he’s dialed in his wedges, he’ll be knocking it close all week.


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