The fourth and final major is this week, as golfers will tackle Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for the 148th Open Championship. Betting favorite Rory McIlroy highlights the field, along with Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, and Tiger Woods.
Royal Portrush is a demanding course that will require a much different style of golf than what we see in America. And some golfers will definitely be better equipped to handle it. So we’re going to look at what makes this course unique, what key stats should be the most important to look at, and then some players that fit the mold.
A 7,340-yard (or 6,711 meters), Par-71 course, Royal Portrush is built for accurate hitters. While it has the fewest bunkers of any course in the Open Championship rotation, the rough is near-penal. The fairways are wide and undulating and will present a challenge, but miss those, and you’re in a heap of trouble.
In addition, nearly all of the greens are raised off of the fairways and could run fast due to the mix of fescue and poa grasses. Add on a biting wind coming right along the Atlantic Ocean, and Royal Portrush will be more than enough of a challenge for these golfers.
Accuracy will obviously be huge, so golfers who find themselves consistently having to bail themselves out of the rough to save par may not be so fortunate this week. But like most links-style courses, all of the approach stats will be huge. Namely, SG: approach and SG: around-the-green.
With the undulating fairways and raised greens, golfers will have to be very strategic about where they hit the ball. It isn’t as simple as just aiming at the pin at a course like this. Bogey-avoidance will also be huge, as last year we saw Francesco Molinari win at Carnoustie by playing bogey-free golf for much of the tournament.
When you are analyzing the field and making your bets, consider some of the recent trends of the Open Championship. First, seven of the last 10 Open Championship winners were 35 or older when they won. In addition, nine of the last 10 winners had previously finished in the top 10 in this major. Finally, eight of the last 10 champions were already ranked in the top 50 of the OWGR.
So what players should you be targeting? Accurate hitters who are even better at approaching the green. Golfers who don’t have a lot of inconsistency and bogeys in their rounds. And lastly, experienced players who have a proven record of success at these links courses and who rank among the world’s best.
With all of those factors in mind, here are some players who may fit that description:
Rory McIlroy – 8/1
There’s a reason he’s the favorite. McIlroy lives for the Open Championship, finishing in the top five in each of his last four appearances, including a victory in 2014. The Northern Ireland native holds the Royal Portrush course record from when he shot a 61 as a 16-year-old. There are obviously huge expectations for McIlroy, but given all the factors listed above, he makes sense as a pick to win.
Jon Rahm – 14/1
While Rahm hasn’t particularly flourished in the Open Championship, he has multiple career wins on links courses, most recently in the Irish Open two weeks ago. His style is tailor-made for a course like Royal Portrush, and the form is there, evident by his recent win and good outing at Pebble Beach last month. If Rahm can keep his emotions in check, he could win his first major.
Matt Kuchar – 33/1
Kuchar fits exactly for what we’re looking for. An elite golfer who ranks top 10 in both SG: approach and scrambling, and one of the more accurate players off the tee. He has three finishes inside the top 10 at the Open and just finished with a T20 at the Scottish Open after putting up an opening round of 63. All of that mixed with favorable odds makes Kuchar a very good pick.
Adam Scott – 33/1
With identical odds as Kuchar, Scott is incredibly consistent. While he hasn’t played since the U.S. Open, the Australian should fare just fine at this course. He has five top-10 finishes at the Open Championship and hasn’t missed the cut for this major in a decade. He’s another player whose history on links courses, along with his bogey-avoidance, make him a decent play.
Eddie Pepperell – 75/1
Pepperell is certainly a sleeper pick, but one who still ranks inside the top 40 of the OWGR. At 28, he has plenty of experience at links-style courses, with solid performances at the Irish and Scottish Opens. He also finished inside the top 10 last year at Carnoustie, leading the field at one point on Sunday. With that history and his ability to scramble if need be, Pepperell is a worthy player to take a flyer on.
I expect all these players mentioned to be in contention, but only one can win. I’ll take Matt Kuchar to finally get over the hump and win his first career major this weekend.