Picking a winner for the 146th Open / Open Championship / British Open at Royal Birkdale is even more confounding than deciphering the official name of this tournament. Let’s just call it the world’s oldest major.
Field analysis is made difficult because of the recent trend of the world’s top players taking time off and trying to peak their performance around the majors. That’s a by-product of the protracted year round scheduling problem on the PGA Tour (more on that coming in a future post). With the exception of Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth, the top contenders don’t play frequently enough. Yes, everyone is different but you can’t just show up once per month under the heat of competition and expect to generate consistent results. Dustin Johnson played Memorial in May and the US Open in June and missed both cuts. He’s coming off a back injury and nobody thinks he should play as much as Vijay Singh, but can DJ seriously be in winning form? No way. To draw a mediocre parallel, I’m in software development. If I practiced my trade under the most stringent of conditions once per month, I’d suck at my job. These guys should go hard from January to August (playing every two out of four weeks) and then shut down.
So let’s get down to business: Rory McIlroy needs a session on the putting green with Dave Stockton Sr. It’s so bad right now, he’s not even close to contending. Jason Day‘s ball striking is in the crapper (what happened?) Defending champion Henrik Stenson has missed five of his last six cuts and is looking to catch lightning in a bottle – nope. Phil missed the US Open, then broke protocol by not playing in the Scottish Open, and finally parted ways with Bones. That may be all the change he can handle at 47 years old and I don’t think it happens for him this week. Hideki Matsuyama threw a scare into the field at the US Open with a strong Sunday finish and is going to get one soon, but it will be on U.S. soil.
Who’s ready? Rickie Fowler.
He keeps finishing top-10 in the majors and plays often enough to stay sharp. I think his conservative strategy in the majors of sometimes taking iron off the tee will play well at Birkdale, because you must drive it straight and then battle the wind from the fairway. Forget playing out of the rough here. Look for a tough battle with Justin Rose, who’s a horse for this course, Spieth, who’s tough in every major, and John Rahm, but Rickie will prevail.
Who is your pick for the Claret Jug?