The 147th playing of golf’s oldest major, The Open Championship, begins this Thursday at historic Carnoustie Golf Links. The last two male majors contested at Carnoustie have produced spectacular drama, in 2007, with Padraig Harrington’s first major championship in a playoff over Sergio Garcia and of course Jean van de Velde’s historic collapse in 1999, resulting in Paul Lawrie’s only major victory. We all know the story by now, but the collapse aside, Carnoustie seems to produce the most compelling finishes in The Open’s rotation. This will be the final year that The Open Championship will be played as the penultimate major on the calendar, as the PGA Championship is moving to May in 2019, allowing for The Open to bookend golf’s major season. This change will be different at first, but when one takes a step back, something does feel right about the first major of the year being played at Augusta National and the season’s last major concluding with golf’s oldest championship.
Carnoustie will be playing extremely firm and fast this week, so one can expect a brutal test of golf for the games best. In 2007, the winning score was -7 and in 1999, the winning score was a whopping +6. I do not expect the winning score to be over par this week, but I do think it should settle somewhere around -10. The weather, as it always is at The Open, will play a major role in deciding the outcome of the championship. Carnoustie has a way of having a veteran from the British Isles in contention late on Sunday (Harrington from Ireland, Lawrie from Scotland), so expect names like Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy to be somewhere near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday. The tough finishing stretch at Carnoustie will put ball striking at a premium and will instill fear in every competitor coming down the last few holes.
Here are my top 10 rankings for The 147th Open Championship, as well as, my group of dark horses, a “dart throw”, my Tiger projection and my projected winner:
10. Tyrrell Hatton
- Last three results: T9 at The Scottish Open, T16 at French Open, T6 at US Open
- The 26 year old Englishman seems primed to contend again at a big event. His ball striking has improved throughout the year and he is growing with confidence. If he can get it right between the ears, he may have a breakthrough at Carnoustie. A lock for the European Ryder Cup team, Hatton is beginning to make himself known on the global scene.
9. Francesco Molinari
- There is not a hotter player on the planet than Francesco Molinari. After winning the European Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth, he followed that up with a win at the Quicken Loans National and a tie for second at the John Deere Classic.
- One of the best ball strikers in the world, sits 4th in strokes gained off-the-tee and second in strokes gained tee-to-green. I would be stunned if Molinari does not finish in the top 10 this week. Lock him in to your lineups.
8. Brooks Koepka
- Back-to-back U.S. Open Champion
- Although I do not expect Koepka to win his second consecutive major this week at Carnoustie, I would not be surprised if he is in the mix once again. Second at Colonial, Win at Shinnecock Hills and 19th at TPC River Highlands shows that he is riding high.
- Koepka started his career on the European Tour and has a sneaky good resume at The Open Championship (T10 in 2015 and T6 in 2017). It would be wise to not bet against this superstar.
7. Tommy Fleetwood
- We all recognize the name and the face by now, and let’s get one thing straight, Tommy is legit.
- Holds the course record at Carnoustie with a 63, even though he is downplaying that given it was not playing at Open Championship standards or pressure.
- All the way up to tenth in the world, Top 20 in strokes gained off-the-tee, strokes gained around the green and strokes gained tee-to-green.
- T4 at the Zurich Classic, T7 at The PLAYERS and runner-up at the U.S. Open
- He is primed for a major breakthrough.
6. Jon Rahm
- Previous 3 results: T4 at Irish Open, T5 at French Open, CUT at US Open, T5 at Colonial
- Rahm is starting to play better golf, but the missed cut at the US Open might rub some people the wrong way. I would not worry about that if you want to get him in your lineups this week, given the three other top-5 finishes in his last 4 starts. Excellent driver of the golf ball, needs to dial in his approaches this week to crack the top-10. I think he will.
5. Jordan Spieth
- Defending Open Champion
- Really the only reason he cracks the top-10 is because of his finish last year and his natural ability to rise to the occasion.
- Decent ball striking statistics this season but has been atrocious with the putter. No top-5’s since Augusta National. A risky pick.
4. Rory McIlroy
- I’m starting to think that Rory is not built for the U.S. Open, outside of his historic triumph at a saturated Congressional in 2011. When the course plays fast and quick, Rory does not seem to be able to put it all together. Struggled at Shinnecock Hills and has missed the cut at the last three U.S. Opens.
- The recent US Open struggles does not seem to impact his Open Championship success, where since his win in 2014 (he missed 2015 due to injury) has finished T5 in 2016 and T4 in 2017. So although, Carnoustie is expected to play firm and fast, I would take a flier on Rory this week, he seems ready to breakthrough again.
3. Rickie Fowler
- Is Rickie ready to breakthrough? We have been saying it for years now and he never seems quite ready to get over the hump. I think he has actually flown a little under the radar this week at Carnoustie. I think this may be Fowler’s moment.
- T6 at Scottish Open, 12th at Quicken Loans, T20 at US Open, T8 at Memorial, T14 at Colonial
- If he can get the putter going, I think he can win here this week at Carnoustie. The last couple of seasons I always looked at Rickie as the best putter in the world, if he can get back to that, it may be his time.
2. Justin Rose
- Finished in the top-10 in his last four events, including one victory.
- Incredible ball striker and hot as anyone on Earth with the putter.
- There is no safer pick than Rose this week.
- Dustin Johnson
- Dustin’s career has been somewhat underrated if you can believe that
- Three career top-10s at The Open, including T2 in 2011
- 15 career major championship top-10s
- Two wins this season
- 3rd at US Open
- 1st in strokes gained off-the-tee, 1st in strokes gained tee-to-green, 1st in total strokes gained
- Hard to find a more consistent player
Group of Dark Horses:
- Alex Noren
- Hideki Matsuyama
- Ian Poulter
- Thorbjorn Olesen
- Danny Willett
- Bronson Burgoon – finished tied for second last week at the John Deere, but also was T30 at the Greenbrier and T6 at the Quicken Loans National. Really good driver of the golf ball, long and straight, that never hurts at an Open Championship.
Tiger Woods report:
I expect Tiger to fair much better this week than he did at Shinnecock Hills. He has been hitting his irons beautifully and I expect to see a fair amount of irons off the tee for positioning and if he can dial in his approaches and get the putter hot I think he should make the cut. My projection would be a finish somewhere around the top-25.
My pick to win this week at Carnoustie:
Dustin Johnson – He is the best player in the world and he is playing at such a high level in the big events. Dustin saw his friend Brooks Koepka get his second major at Shinnecock Hills while in the same pairing. I bet that has Dustin motivated and I expect him to rise to the occasion and take the title this week for his second major.
It is one of the best weeks of the sporting year, we all remember waking up early to coverage of The Open Championship as a kid! This Thursday at 1:30 A.M., Golf Channel will have first ball to last ball coverage (in conjunction with NBC over the weekend) and we all cannot wait. I expect nothing but thrilling action this week, as Carnoustie never disappoints. Enjoy the action!