The Open Championship Fantasy Preview

The U.S. Open is known as the toughest test in golf, but don’t tell that to any of the 156 golfers who played Royal Birkdale during the 2008 Open Championship.

Winds were whipping at 20+ MPH all week with gusts exceeding 40 MPH at times, leading to a winning score of +3 by Paddy Harrigton, beating the runner-up, Ian Poulter, by FOUR strokes. You could have cracked the top 10 that year with a four-day tally of 12-over. That wasn’t even the highest score by a winner at Royal Birkdale, as Peter Thompson won the 1965 edition by taking 285 swipes (two more than Paddy), although it was playing as a par 73 back then. Thompson was part of a trend that saw Americans or Aussies win the first eight Open Championships held by Royal Birkdale.

Should we expect another bloodbath this week at Royal Birkdale? Mother Nature will decide. Par is just a number but in the three editions Birkdale has hosted as a par 70, the winning scores have been -8, EVEN, and +3 so weather truly can be worth 2-to-3 shots per round, around here.

The course itself is a par 70 links layout that plays to just 7,156 yards. The par 5s are both on the homeward nine, with the longest of par 5s measuring just 567, certainly manageable by everyone in the field. That takes away a small edge for bombers since there are only two par 5s and both of them do not require length to score.

The fairways at Royal Birkdale are known for being flat but also very tight. When you think links golf, you probably imagine generous fairways but that’s not the case here. The flat fairways reduce the element of unlucky bounces just a bit, but once you get offline, the rough is very penal and can swallow up your golf ball quickly. If a 20-handicapper played the course, they are probably going to be on their second sleeve of balls before they even reach the turn. Back in 2008, Ernie Els called this a second-shot course because of all the doglegs that force golfers to drive into the same landing areas.

Sergio Garcia would also say, “on these kind of courses you don’t have to just get there and just bang it. You have to hit different shots off the tee.” The consensus from all the golfers seem to be that Royal Birkdale is a course where you need to be a good driver of the golf ball. Justin Rose compared it to a U.S. Open-like test in terms of driving. For stats, that means I want to target strokes gained off-the-tee but avoid golfers that spray it all over the ballpark. For me, I like to use Distance from the Edge of Fairway to determine who keeps the ball in play. After that, I also think elite short game should be really helpful this week, unless the wind forecast looks dead calm, then I would shift more toward elite approach play.

Check out the Royal Birkdale Fantasy Golfanac for more quotes and tounament insights.

Looking for correlated courses, a simple tournament history would probably provide the best results. Other than that, I picked out a few courses/events that have shown a correlation to success at The Open with an emphasis on tough driving alleys: Firestone CC, TPC Southwind, Riviera CC, the U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship.

WEATHER DRAW: I’m not going to go as far as suggesting one wave over the other right now, but I want to remind gamers that there are no split tees at The Open Championship. That means the final group on Thursday and Friday will tee off more than 9 hours after the first group kicks off the day. This is definitely an event that is notorious for one side (or even one cluster) of the draw getting a clear advantage over the first two rounds. Keep an eye on the forecast and strongly consider stacking tee-time waves if you are playing multiple lineups on DraftKings or FanDuel.

Looking at the past 10 years, there is one starting tee-time wave that has yielded the most winners (4), podiums (10), Top 5s (17), Top 10s (28), and top 25s (48)… That is golfers that have started between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM on Thursday. This is going to vary year-to-year based on weather (last year it was the 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM time slot that yielded the most success). Definitely something to keep an eye on.

Players to Watch

Dick Fowler P.I.
Rickie Fowler… It appears he’s forgotten his razor so we have a full Dick Fowler, P.I. situation on our hands (moustached man). Fowler has everything you want this week. He’s got stellar season-long form, he’s striping fairways at a high clip but can still pound it out there when he needs to. He’s entered the final round inside the top 10 on six occasions this season and he doesn’t mind a little wind or rain. Could this finally be his time to shine in a major? I’m thinking the odds are in his favor.

Sergio Garcia… Much like Fowler, he’s elite when it comes to playing in the elements. It’s no wonder he’s pieced together 10 top 10s in 20 Open Championship appearances. The only potential knocks against him would be his Masters win (is he fat and happy?) or his upcoming wedding (how involved/stressed is Sergio about the big day?). Those same factors could also work in his favor, saying he’s finally knocked the major monkey off his back and he’s in a good place in his personal life. Always thought The Open was best suited for Garcia to pick up his first major title. Obviously not possible anymore, but why not add a second major?

Francesco Molinari… Has played in 9 Open Championships and entered the finale inside the top 25 in four of those starts. He didn’t qualify in 2008 (last time Birkdale hosted) but should be a superb fit on paper. The tight(er) fairways shouldn’t bother him as he shoots arrows off the tee. If it gets extremely windy and he has to rely on his short game more, then I may bump him down my list, but in calmer conditions I think Moli can be a tee-to-green nightmare this week.

Andy Sullivan… When playing DFS in big events like this, the Euro golfers will always go lower owned than they should. Sullivan should fall into that category since he’s not a sexy play on paper and he’s not a household name. However, he enters with top 20s in four of his last five starts and has finishes on T30 and T12 in his two Open appearances.

Alex Noren … Keeping with the Euro flavor, this Swede has won six times since the start of 2015. Finished T19 at Royal Birkdale back in 2008. If he gets a sniff of the lead, he won’t back down.

Tyrrell Hatton… He was the hot item heading into Augusta National but he’s cooled considerably since then. Still has the mojo to win a major and finished T5 at Troon last year (finally breaking out of an 0-for-4 start to his Open Championship career).

Bernd Wiesberger… Has disappointed with nothing better than a T64 in four tries at The Open but like Hatton, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him finally pop in his fifth try. Arrives with top 30s in eight of his last nine worldwide starts.

Jordan Spieth… Getting away from all the Euro talent, we can’t forget about the Golden Boy, Spieth. If Royal Birkdale is a course that doesn’t allow for grip-it-and-rip-it golf then course management certainly gets a boost. That is where Spieth excels. Even when his off-the-tee game is sloppy, he generally knows the right areas to miss it and makes loads of par-saving putts to keep momentum rolling. Spieth also happens to be in the golden tee-time wave, going off at 9:47 AM on Thursday.

Hideki Matsuyama… His best finish at The Open came in his 2013 debut at Muirfield. That may be the best comp course to Royal Birkdale which bodes well for Hideki’s chances. He hasn’t played all that great on coastal course but everything lines up for a good week.

Tommy Fleetwood… Have him ranked in the 30-to-35 range based on raw stats alone. However, he does have the local factor which is not lost on anyone that has been researching or watching golf for the last six months. Having the weight of an entire town can help but it can also put a lot of pressure on his shoulders. High upside play this week? Absolutely. Overvalued in the betting market and DFS market? Absolutely. Would be #26 in my rankings if they expanded.

Steve Stricker… Finished T8 here back in 2008 and still playing solid golf in 2017. Made the cut on the number last week before torching TPC Deere Run over the weekend to backdoor a T5. If weather turns this into a grindfest, you got to think he finds his way into the mix, but in calm conditions he may have to settle for a T30-type finish. Would be #27 in my rankings.

My Top 25 for the 2017 Open Championship

1. Rickie Fowler
2. Jordan Spieth
3. Sergio Garcia
4. Matt Kuchar
5. Hideki Matsuyama
6. Henrik Stenson
7. Justin Rose
8. Alex Noren
9. Jon Rahm
10. Rory McIlroy
11. Francesco Molinari
12. Tyrrell Hatton
13. Dustin Johnson
14. Bernd Wiesberger
15. Andy Sullivan
16. Martin Kaymer
17. Branden Grace
18. Louis Oosthuizen
19. Jason Day
20. Brant Snedeker
21. Adam Scott
22. Thomas Pieters
23. Justin Thomas
24. Brooks Koepka
25. Marc Leishman

This article has 56 comments

    • Sprays the ball so the big number is always lurking on a course like this. High upside if he puts his driver away for most of the round though. Had an early-week triple that spoiled his week last time at Royal Birkdale. Still managed a T19. Took 30+ putts in all four rounds though. Just a bad week or greens not suit him? Not sure.

      Reply
  1. Speaking of undervalued European and other players, what do you think of Ryan Fox who finally qualified at Aberdeen? In the last 6 weeks on the Euro Tour he’s finished 4th, 4th, 6th, 26th, 23rd, 21st. Peter Uihlein also looks to be in good form despite a missed cut last week.

    Reply
  2. Just wondering why so high on Hatton? His recent form has been dreadful, and the putter has certainly cooled off from earlier in the season. Maybe I’m missing something

    Reply
    • He certainly has cooled off, maybe him a bit more risky but I think his love for links golf makes this a great spot to pop. His decline in form just means we get a lower-owned Hatton.

      Check out his recent blurb on Rotoworld.com and you’ll see what I mean when it comes to loving links golf.

      Reply
  3. Is Dustin Johnson a fade for you on DK? Even with soft pricing it feels like this could be an opportunity to get the #1 player in the world at possibly as low as 10% ownership.

    Reply
    • I would monitor the sites that project ownership. If he looks to be that low owned then yes I’d love him as an option.

      However, he’s still one of the top in Vegas odds so I don’t think he’ll get overlooked.

      Reply
  4. When you say 9-10 AM, I just want to confirm that is American time. Any visibility yet on whether there is a wave advantage?

    Reply
  5. Always love reading your articles. Just wondering if your top 25 rankings are based purely on DFS market? Or is that your order from most likely to win down?

    Reply
  6. I was wondering if u would sneak Sully in there. Noren won British amateur on links purse in 25 mph winds too. Powemfade all US players last week. Fowls!!!!!

    Reply
  7. I don’t see any mention of Paul Casey, but he seems like a solid pick for this week. Accurate driver , solid scrambler, decent length and good form lately. Any reason for not including him in you rankings.

    Reply
    • He graded out as a solid “safe play” this week while I weighed upside a bit more. I he would have been one just outside of my top 25 but I think he’ll finish in the 20-to-50th range.

      Reply
  8. Hey Josh, great stuff as always. I saw that you’re Specialist model on RD grades Paddy out well but this new swing of his has me has me nervous. It just looks like it could break down in a hurry if something gets out of sync. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Paddy scares me personally. He’ll get a lot of love as a past champ and elite history on links. His current baseline is low enough for me to overlook him and hope he flops.

      Reply
      • Harrington is no good in rain…said so himself last week,,,then proved it in the third round…if it stays dry you have to consider him..dont worry bout the Happy Gilmore…he has been doing it for awhile

        Reply
  9. Hey Josh,

    OAD, I have DJ, Spieth, Day, Rory still to use. Majors use 2 golfers and there’s a separate major pool from the overall (so they kind of count double).

    Almost everyone has used spieth and DJ already, and a lot of people are using fleet wood this week with various other golfers. I’m towards the top 1/4 in majors only and overall…

    Considering using spieth and Brooks this week… save DJ and Rory for PGA (Quail Hollow), maybe use Day in Bridgestone.

    Thoughts?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Who all have you used? I don’t think he need to handcuff yourself to those studs because Birkdale doesn’t setup great for a lot of the bombers.

      I do love Spieth but I would consider going a little further down the board for your second pick.

      Reply
  10. Re. your tee time argument: aren’t the best players consistently grouped together and in the most watchable slots? The 9-10 slot this year has like 10 of the top players in the world, so it’s likely that it would produce more success…

    Reply
    • Yes the top players are generally bucketed into a four-hour window but the stats for the 9-10 was still stand out quite a bit.

      10 of the top players is a stretch. There is Spieth, Rose, Stenson, Oosthy, Thomas, Pieters

      The 1 PM wave has Rory, DJ, Rahm, Reed, Charl, Berger.

      The 2pm has Day, ZJ, Segio, Rickie, Scott, Casey, Kuch.

      Overall you have a valid point about the best players being bunched in those slots but it’s still interesting to see particular tee times excel at a much higher clip.

      Reply
  11. Used rickie, Sergio, kuch, hideki, stenson, rose, rahm, molinari, oosthy to name a few.

    I guess I just wanted to know your thoughts on the PGA and how I can put myself in position to have two top guys to make a final push.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Rory and Phil both have elite history at Quail Hollow. I would feel confident with that pairing at the PGA.

      My two thoughts: use Spieth + someone this week, use Rory + someone at PGA

      Reply
  12. Hi Josh, I love the site and read your previews to start my research each week.
    I am 115th in Esser’s OAD pool, leaving me ~$2.9M back from first and $1.3M back from top 15 (cash) with 9 tourneys to go. My options this week include: DJ, Rory, Day, Rose, Scott, Fleetwood, Noren, Oosty, Snedeker, Molinari. I believe much of the top 15 teams have already used DJ, Rose, Day. Do you have any strategy/tips for my pick this week?

    Thanks

    Reply
  13. Matsuyama seems underrated by pundits in general, probably because he’s japanese and not american. And yet he’s much better than most of the american stars, with the exception of Johnson and Spieth. He seems to be trending towards a major for me and the fact he did so well on the final day at Erin hills in windy conditions bodes well for his chances.

    Reply
    • Hideki is either completely overrated or completely underated based on who you follow or listen to. He has plenty of fans but plenty of people still ignoring him.

      Reply
  14. Who rounds out that top 30? Casey, Rafa, Berger? Or any other guys just outside worth a quick mention?

    Also thoughts on winning score? -5?

    Reply
  15. (Pick One) Best score for tournament of these: Wes, Perez, Fisher, Moore, Horschel, Grillo, Knox, Tanihara, Bubba, Woodland ?? (leaning towards avoiding those last 3 listed)

    Reply
  16. Josh, our fantasy football draft order is reliant on where our selected golfer finishes at the open. Safest pick to make the cut and give me a chance of a high pick out of kuch, stenson, Sullivan, JT and brooks?

    Reply
  17. Josh, our fantasy football draft order is reliant on where our selected golfer finishes at the open. Safest picks in order to make the cut and give me a chance of a high pick out of kuch, stenson, Sullivan, JT and brooks? Taking into account time slots..

    Reply
  18. Josh

    Thoughts on Zach Johnson this week ? I didn’t see him on many of your lists. Do you not like his tee time draw or think this course is a bad fit ?

    Reply
    • No its just his season-long form that drops him down my lists a bit. Hard to argue with his Open track record though. Not my fav play but don’t hate him either.

      Reply
  19. Another player I feel who has been underestimated is Thomas. There are ten players ahead of him in the betting who are behind him in the world golf rankings. He just shot an amazing round at the US open and that seems to have been largely forgotten.

    Reply
  20. Struggling hard this week Josh. Been saving Sergio all year in my OAD to use him here and for some reason Poulter and Oosth are keeping me from pulling the trigger on Sergio. Poulter has played as well as anyone in his last 12 rounds and Oosth seems to always show up when ball striking trumps….. with the weather looking rainy and one day looking really windy will putting come into play more? Of the three which do you feel is the better putter? Last seven weeks in my OAD have been rough.. need a sure top 5-10 this week. What are your thoughts? Thanks in advance Josh!

    Reply
    • Oosthy is putting well this year. It’s hard to say how weather affects putting. I havent dove too deep. Does the weather make it tougher to putt for everyone, there fore give an edge to bad putters or do great putters still putt well when it’s windy? Not sure lol

      Reply
      • I was just thinking if the weather is bad then proximity to the holes may not be as good for the elite ball strikers leaving the good putters an opp to make longer putts…

        Reply
  21. With Phil now supposedly leaving out his driver for the “frankenwood” and 16 degree 3i, does that change your outlook on his chances given his solid record in links, wind, coastal and majors?

    Reply
  22. hey josh,

    i think friday is going to be a bloodbath….winds seem to peak midday with gusts in the 40-45mph…..rain heaviest b/w 12-6….heavier closer to 6. based on this i think its going to be important to go low in good weather thursday and hang on friday. a couple questions. is there anyone based on an approx midday fri/afternoon fri start that will be in trouble?

    i’m really gonna lean more on grinders and wind/rain players…..fowler, grace, dj…maybe even harrington…..how about adding a few to that list for me?

    Reply

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