graphic-rahmxpopen.jpg
CBS Sports graphic

With the 149th Open Championship fast approaching, the key question everyone's asking is the same across the golf world: Who are you picking to win at Royal St. George's in the final major of 2021? With a tremendous field featuring most of the best professionals in the world, we are in for an epic ride beginning with Thursday's first round.

The Open storylines are plentiful this week as the event is being held for the first time since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Will Jon Rahm double up after winning his first career major at the U.S. Open? Is it time for Jordan Spieth to break out of his major funk dating back to 2017? Perhaps it will be Dustin Johnson finding redemption after his tough defeat at Royal St. George's a decade ago.

So what is going to happen this week in the United Kingdom? Let's take a look at a full set of predictions and picks from our CBS Sports experts. Check out a full set of 2021 Open odds via William Hill Sportsbook.

Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter, Mark Immelman and Jonathan Coachman to preview the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St. George's. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

2021 Open expert picks, predictions

Kyle Porter, golf writer

Winner -- Jon Rahm (7-1): Since World War II, only Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods have won both the U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same calendar year. Rahm is not going to go down as historically successful as probably any of those players, but his game is similar. No holes. No weaknesses. He's coming to England armed with a U.S. Open title and five years' worth of evidence that he's the best of the best. It could be scary.

Sleeper -- Collin Morikawa (40-1): What am I missing? The No. 4 player in the world is 40-1 to win The Open. Is he likely to win? Of course not, but if I can get the golfer who is almost certainly the best iron player on the planet at 40-1 at a major championship, I am taking that.

Top 10 lock -- Brooks Koepka: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. You're not going to fool me 31 times in a row. Koepka should always be the top-10 lock mostly because he's finished in the top 10 in 14 of his last 21 majors (including four wins). He said on Tuesday that a showdown with Bryson DeChambeau on Sunday would be fun: "I'll be close to the final group come Sunday."

Star who definitely won't win -- Dustin Johnson: It's always dangerous to play this game with D.J., but it's just difficult to envision this year, even if he did play great here back in 2011. His recent issues have mostly been with iron play, and while a major could be the time that clicks into place, there are too many stars playing at a much better clip than he is for me to believe he's going to take his first Claret Jug.

Surprise prediction: Bryson DeChambeau misses the cut. This won't be a surprise to those who are paying close attention, and it might end up looking idiotic (last time I picked him to miss the cut at a major, he won the U.S. Open). But he even admitted that the bomb it and find it strategy he's employed over the last few years might not hold up at an Open: "The thing is you can't miss it out here very often. If you do, you're in the hay and it's not easy to get out of. This is the first time I've taken my length to links golf. We'll see how that plays. Maybe it plays out week; maybe it doesn't. I'll keep trying to figure it out."

Lowest round: 64 (-6)
Winning score: 273 (-7)
Winner's Sunday score: 68 (-2)


Chip Patterson, writer

Winner -- Justin Thomas (20-1): Some fans might have only seen J.T.'s awful shot on Saturday from the Scottish Open because it went viral without keeping track of where he was on the leaderboard or how he was playing in this warm-up for the Open Championship. Saturday's 70 was the worst round of Thomas' week in Scotland, and his final-round 65 on Sunday brought him within a couple strokes of the eventual winners. When I'm looking for my winner at the Open, especially at Royal St. George's with its quirky bumps and mounds, it's important to identify golfers who can scramble, get creative and find ways to overcome the oddities of the landscape. Thomas' scrambling game was in top form on Sunday at the Scottish Open, and that was the final piece of convincing I needed to back one of the most well-rounded golfers from the sport's elite tier. His history at this major is admittedly not great (two missed cuts, no top-10s in four starts), but I think this will be the beginning of changing the narrative that this major is a place where J.T. struggles. 

Sleeper -- Sergio Garcia (55-1): I like this better as a top-10 or top-20 play, but Sergio is absolutely someone to target when searching for any kind of value. While Garcia never broke through with an Open Championship win, he's got 10 top-10 finishes since 2001, including top-10s each of the last two times Royal St. George has hosted the event (2003, 2011). Garcia went through a rough patch in April and May but three straight top-20 finishes at the Charles Schwab Challenge, U.S. Open and BMW International Open on the European Tour have restored confidence in his ability to find something special this week in England. 

Top 10 lock -- Brooks Koepka: If you want to dive in on one side of the Brooks-Bryson rivalry from a picks standpoint, the profile leans heavily in favor of Koepka. And Koepka's profile not only stands out as superior to DeChambeau but dwarfs most of the field, making anything less than a top-10 finish an anomaly. Koepka has finished T7 or better in seven of his last nine major championship starts, and that streak doesn't even include his first three major wins in 2017 and 2018. At The Open in particular, he's got a T4, T6 and T10 in his last four starts, and his recent form has been strong enough to guarantee more of the same "Brooks at a major" expectations. 

Star who definitely won't win -- Dustin Johnson: On one hand, D.J. finished T2 behind Darren Clarke when the Open was played at Royal St. George's in 2011, one of three times that he's finished in the top 10 at this major. On the other, DJ's best finish in his last three Open starts was a T51 in 2019. He's regained the No. 1 spot in the world rankings this week, but he does he seem like the No. 1 player in the world at this moment? Rahm was docked rankings points after only finishing seventh at the Scottish Open, while D.J. didn't play. The battle for No. 1 in the world doesn't play a factor in my prediction here, but it does impact values on the odds board and in many pool play setups. D.J.'s playing fine right now, but he hasn't really been in contention to win outright since February.   

Surprise prediction: Someone will give up strokes in Bjorn's Bunker. The Great Dane is one of the 20 winningest golfers in European Tour history, but his major championship record includes a painful lowlight that has added to the lore of Royal St. George's. In 2003, he held the lead with four holes to play but finished bogey, double bogey, bogey, par and lost to Ben Curtis by one stroke. The iconic turning point of that late-round collapse was landing in the bunker on the right side of the par-3 16th hole. After it took three swings to get out of the sand en route to a double-bogey, that fateful green side sand is now called "Bjorn's Bunker." I think someone, maybe even on Sunday, is going to give us flashbacks with difficulties getting out from that sand. 

Lowest round: 65 (-5) 
Winning score: 275 (-5) 
Winner's Sunday score: 69 (-1) 

Who will win the Open Championship, and which long shots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now to see the projected leaderboard and best bets, all from the model that's nailed seven golf majors, including Jon Rahm's epic U.S. Open victory.


Kyle Boone, writer

Winner -- Jon Rahm (7-1): Really going out on a limb here taking the frontrunner, I get it, but there's nothing that says Rahm should not win his second major in as many months. He crushed Torrey Pines last month at the U.S. Open and looked true to form last week in the Scottish Open where he finished seventh in a tune-up. He has been the best player in the world this year in strokes gained and a links setup like Royal St. George's should allow for his full array of ball-striking to carry him to contention.

Sleeper -- Abraham Ancer (66-1): The last two winners at Royal St. George's were 150-1 longshots or greater in Darren Clarke (2011) and Ben Curtis (2003). So I looked deep in the field to find my favorite sleeper and came up with Ancer, who has quietly been one of the most steady golfers on tour of late. While he has no major championships and has not won on the PGA Tour, he has been aces off the tee this season and has four top-10 finishes in his last six outings dating back to May.

Top 10 lock -- Rory McIlroy: We've seen more good than bad of McIlroy this year, and while he's got just one win to show for it, he has rounded into form just in time with a T7 finish at the U.S. Open last month catapulting him into a good spot here. That performance should quell some criticism that was surrounding his recent lackluster showings in major championships, and we know thanks to his brilliant 2014 season that he's got the goods to win at a track like this.

Star who definitely won't win -- Bryson DeChambeau: The bomb and gouge approach won't work this week for DeChambeau. The pot bunkers and treacherous roughs will require precision off the tees. That is not in his bag. For as long as he can be with the driver, it won't give him the advantage he typically has over the field if he can't stay out of trouble, and I suspect he'll have a hard time controlling the big stick.

Surprise prediction: Rickie Fowler makes some noise with a surprise top 20. He's faded hard the last few years with his last win coming back in 2019. But Royal St. George's is a track we know he's had success at in the past, and his T5 finish here in 2011 makes me think he can rekindle some old form and have a nice showing this week.

Lowest round: 66 (-4)
Winning score: 275 (-5)
Winner's Sunday score: 68 (-2)


Jacob Hallex, producer

Winner -- Jon Rahm (7-1): Rahm or Koepka is winning this thing. Strictly looking at recent form, I'll give the edge to the Spaniard. Rahm has won 12 times in the 123 Official World Golf Ranking sanctioned starts. That's a win rate of nearly 10%! History tells us he plays well in spurts. Just look back to his victory at the 2020 Memorial where he rattled off three top-10's and a victory over his next five PGA Tour starts. Look back at his most recent starts and we're in the midst of something special. Early in June he was forced to withdraw en route to boat racing the field at the Memorial. He won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and just last week he was in the mix at the very comparable Scottish Open. Rahm is a justifiable favorite to be the next Champion Golfer of the Year. 

Sleeper -- Ian Poulter (55-1): Recency bias alert! Poulter is coming off a great performance at the Scottish Open, which will play very similar to this week's major championship. The Open championship has a tendency to turn into a glorified putting contest if winds stay reasonable, and that makes Poulter very appealing at long numbers. The Englishman has gained strokes on the green in eight of his last 10 PGA Tour stroke play events with strokes gained data available. With three career top-10 finishes and a Ryder Cup looming, I think it's worth taking a flyer on Poulter.

Top 10 lock -- Louis Oosthuizen: Can interest you in a player that's finished runner-up at the last two majors? What if I told you this championship is the only major he has won in his career? Introducing Mr. Oosthuizen. The seemingly ageless Saffa has had a great 2021 season that includes a near-miss at the U.S. Open just a month ago. Louis is a top 15 player in the world coming into this week with excellent form. I'll take him over the likes of DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and even a certain Ulsterman.

Star who definitely won't win -- Rory McIlroy: I'm just not feeling McIlroy this week. His victory at the Wells Fargo Championship is looking more and more like an outlier as we take the 10,000 meter view at his season. Rors hasn't looked good in his two starts leading up to this week. He finished a lackluster T59 at the Irish Open and didn't play the weekend at the Scottish Open. He's been erratic off the tee which is undoubtedly the No. 1 weapon in his bag.

Surprise prediction: Bryson DeChambeau misses the cut. Our favorite bulked-up golfer is coming overseas in a chaotic fashion. Flashback first to the Rocket Mortgage Classic where Bryson and caddie Tim Tucker decided to mutually part ways in the middle of a tournament week ... yeah. Brian Zeigler now gets the loop for B.A.D. and his first gig will be a major. This might be the only bag where the old mantra "show up, keep up and shut up" doesn't apply. Caddying for DeChambeau requires a lot of calculations, long hours, repetitive practice sessions and keeping one of the world's most unique golfers company. Caddie news, aside we can also look at Bryson's recent form and see it's not quite up to snuff. Aaron Rodgers carried the team in "The Match 4" while Bryson himself hasn't notched a top-10 finish since the Wells Fargo Championship.  

Lowest round: 65 (-5) 
Winning score: 268 (-12) 
Winner's Sunday score: 67 (-3)