I know — Jason, Jordan, Rory, DJ – all golfers who are the favorites to hoist the Claret Jug this week when the 145th Open Championship is played at Royal Troon. Three of the four made my “Watch List” for both the Masters in April and last month’s U.S. Open. But this time, I’m avoiding all of them. Let’s be honest – they’re all beyond good enough to win in Scotland, but something about links golf in the UK leads me to picking 5 other, worthy, golfers.
1. Sergio Garcia
Whenever you talk about picking winners in an overseas tournament, one question always comes up in my head: Is Sergio playing? And if he is, then I tend to like his chances. There’s something about Sergio’s personality and his tumultuous relationship with the American media that reminds me of another Euro who always struggled to win in the U.S. in his prime – Colin Montgomerie. But go to Europe and it all changes. Not to mention, Sergio has 9 top 10s at The Open in 19 tries. He’s also been a bridesmaid twice. We’ve seen two golfers sans major titles go out and get the first two of this season. Why not make it a third?
2. Adam Scott
The Aussie is a proven major champion, but has been quiet in the big tournaments in the last couple years. His scorching start to the Florida swing this Spring seems ages ago. But going across the pond might just be the perfect fix for Scott – 5 top 10s at the Open and 4 straight. That’s a level of consistency few can match.
3. Louis Oosthuizen
When Oosthuizen broke through and ran away with the Claret Jug in 2010 at St. Andrews, it caught everyone off-guard. Not just the fact that the South African won at the Old Course, but the manner in which he did was ultra-impressive – 7 shots clear of runner up, Lee Westwood. On the contrary, a strong performance at Royal Troon this month would not be surprising to many at all. In fact, it’s become almost expected to see Oosty near the top of the leaderboard in majors – especially at The Open. He posted back-to-back runner-up performances at last year’s U.S. Open and Open Championship. His iron play and accuracy off the tee should keep him in the hunt for a second Claret Jug.
4. Francesco Molinari
A name most will not think to shout when asked to predict this year’s Open Champion Golfer. The 33-year old Italian plays mostly on the European Tour so he should feel fairly comfortable at Troon. In his last four Opens, Molinari has made the cut – his best performance coming in 2013 when he was T9. His game might be rounding into form, with a runner-up finish at the French Open on the July 4th weekend. The Open always brings out the best in a golfer that is off most spectators’ radar. Molinari might be that guy in ’16.
5. Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood should be a major champion by this time in his career. But for whatever reason, he can’t seem to seal the deal. I think his game suits Augusta nicely, but if he’s going to ever win a big one, I think it’s going to come at The Open. His comfort level is higher in Europe, he’s practically playing in his backyard wherever The Open venue is for that particular year, and his game fits links golf. He doesn’t have to overpower Royal Troon – just avoid major trouble off the tee and put approach shots within shouting distance of the pin. Westwood’s stats this season have dropped a bit, but he hasn’t finished outside the top-15 in his last 6 starts dating back to the Masters, except for a T32 at Oakmont. His history at The Open speaks well for him also – 4 top-5s (2 of which have come in the past 6 years).
Other Notables to watch:
Rickie Fowler – Few players have been more underwhelming than Fowler. Many expected a breakthrough in the majors for the Oklahoma State Cowboy. But maybe all the disappointment of 2016 will be forgotten with a great performance at Royal Troon. Fowler tied for 2nd in 2014 at Royal Liverpool. If he can rekindle some of that magic, the man in orange will be scoring deep into the red come Sunday.
Ernie Els – A two-time Open Champion – and nearly 3, only narrowly missing out in 2004 in a playoff to Todd Hamilton, the Big Easy has not been the model of great golf in 2016. The 4-time Major winner had missed 4 consecutive cuts leading up to a 5th place finish at the Quicken Loans at Congressional last month. There’s little evidence supporting that a weekend at Troon will end well for the South African; but he’s a veteran who plays well at The Open.
Phil Mickelson – Lefty finished one shot out of the Hamilton-Els playoff in 2004. He was 3 shots clear of the rest of the field. So Phil knows how to play this course. Oh, and he’s already got one Claret Jug in his trophy case.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.