British Open 2017: Breaking down the field, Royal Birkdale course, strong prediction
An historic course, a loaded field and one of the great events on the golf calendar are on tap this week
The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale for the 10th time, and if history is any indication, we're going to get an immense winner for the 146th edition of this tournament.
Weather will obviously play a huge role this week in determining the eventual champion golfer of the year -- and getting on the right side of the draw will be a huge talking point throughout. But we're also getting an intriguing field on a classic course with a little history on the line.
Let's take a look at what to expect at Royal Birkdale this week.
1. Last repeat winner: The last time an Open winner won the following year as well happened to be on this course in 2008 when Padraig Harrrington followed his playoff win over Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie with a blowout win at Birkdale. Harrington is in the field again this week and still playing great golf a decade later. He'll be one of several golfers trying to keep Henrik Stenson from following his Open win at Royal Troon with another one this week in England.
2. Field breakdown: The field for this week's Open Championship is a little more obscure than most. Here's how the 156 players in the field can be divided up.
- Former Open winners: 16
- Local qualifiers: 15
- From United States: 52
- Not from United States: 104
- Amateurs: 5
3. Sleepers I love: I really like the numbers on these six golfers.
- Brandt Snedeker: 66-1
- Matthew Fitzpatrick: 80-1
- Zach Johnson: 80-1
- Tyrrell Hatton: 100-1
- J.B. Holmes: 125-1
- Peter Uihlein: 125-1
Johnson has finished in the top 10 in three of his last five Opens including a win. What am I missing there?
4. Your daily reminder that John Daly has a spot this week: Forget Tom Watson in 2009, this would be the most incredible sports story of all time if Daly was able to win the Open after turning 50. Bad news for Daly lovers, though: He hasn't finished inside the top 20 at this tournament since 2005.
5. Driving irons everywhere: We've already heard Rory McIlroy talk about how he won't hit driver until No. 13. Phil Mickelson is likely taking his driver out of the bag altogether. You're going to see loads of 2-irons, 3-woods and maybe even the occasional 1-iron off the tees this week. That favors guys like Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson and Jason Day who often drive with those clubs anyway.
6. Not the most "open": The Open is could see anyone win it, right? Well, that's actually probably a claim the PGA Championship should make. But the Open is right up there in terms of off-the-wall winners. One trend of late (which we'll talk more about in a minute) is how many golfers in their 40s we've seen win this event. So one of the reasons I think this OWGR number is so high is because you get formerly elite golfers (like Ernie Els in 2012) winning the Claret Jug in the twilight of their careers when they're not as high as they used to be in the world rankings.
7. The course used to be a par 73: Now it's a par 70. When the first Open was played at Royal Birkdale in 1954, the winning score was 9-under 283. When the most recent Open was played here in 2008 the winning score was 3-over 283. This year, I think it will be at or around 2-under 278 depending on the weather.
8. The three best groups: There are a handful of spectacular groups to follow over the first few days at this event, but the three best for my money?
- Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Paul Casey
- Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel
- Jason Day, Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson
9. Average age of past seven winners is 37: And that's with a 25-year-old Rory McIlroy taking the crown in 2014. Adam Scott turned 37 last week and has finished in the top 10 in four of the last five years. Anybody with me here?
10. A history of success: The only golfers in the field this week that finished in the top 10 at either of the last two Opens at Royal Birkdale are as follows:
- Mark O'Meara (Won in 1998)
- Justin Rose (T4 in 1998)
- Padraig Harrington (Won in 2008)
- Ian Poulter (2nd in 1998)
- Henrik Stenson (T3 in 1998)
- Chris Wood (T4 in 1998)
- Paul Casey (T7 in 1998)
- Ernie Els (T7 in 1998)
- Steve Stricker (T7 in 1998)
Stricker also finished in the top five last year and has an incredible streak going of 24 straight cuts made at major championships. Also, how great would it be if we got a Harrington-Poulter rematch a decade later?
11. Stopping the shortcut: Golfers have been hitting balls up the 10th fairway from the 9th tee box to play the 9th hole. The R&A has now made this an out of bounds zone exclusively for the 9th hole. Here's what players were trying to do.
12. The fairest test: I'm already exhausted with this storyline, but it's worth mentioning one final time before play gets started on Thursday. The reason Birkdale has been dubbed the fairest test in the Open rota is because its fairways are flatter than a 1-iron. They're like parking lots which I suppose makes for no sidehill or downhill lies. But isn't that half the fun of links golf?
The prevailing sentiment from Birkdale is also that if you're wayward off the tee, it's going to be loads of trouble. That's not always the case at Opens, but it will be this week. Not great news for some of the big bombers not afraid to get a little sideways.
13. Also, the greens are smaller than they seem: Friend of the site Tron Carter noted in this podcast that the greens at this course have rivets in them that make the actual landing space for second shots a lot smaller than it looks both on TV and when you're standing in the fairway. So it's a first- and second-shot course.
14. No Brits have ever won here: This course has seen eight Australian or American champions and only one European (Irishman Padraig Harrington in 2008). It's the only course in the rota with nine or more Opens hosted that has never seen a Brit win.
15. The winner: I'm picking Rickie Fowler, but I'm worried sick about Spieth. If (and this is a big if) he hits his driver well this week, it could be a march for major championship No. 3 from Thursday on. But I think this is finally Fowler's week. I've long thought his first major would come at The Open. He's playing some of the best golf of his life. Everything's coming up orange.
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