There’s an overwhelming favorite heading into the Open Championship at Royal Portrush this week, a wonderful storyline and a perfect narrative. And that’s why you should run screaming from backing Rory McIlroy, the local legend and odds-on pick to win the 2019 Open.
McIlroy, who hails from Northern Ireland, holds the course record at Royal Portrush, a 61 he notched as a 16-year-old. He’ll have overwhelming support from the sellout crowds, and he’s playing some of the best golf of his recent career these days, major performances notwithstanding.
So why avoid McIlroy, who’s going off at plus-850 (bet $100 to win $850) as the favorite, according to Bovada? Let’s just say McIlroy doesn’t have the best history of playing well when the spotlight’s brightest. His best chance at winning a major recently came at last year’s Masters, when he was paired in the final group with Patrick Reed ... and immediately fell apart. Combine that with the constant demands on McIlroy’s time and the assumption, not even expectation, that he’ll win, and you’re looking at a dubious bet.
Next in line is exactly who you’d think: Brooks Koepka at plus-950. The reigning Greatest Player in Golf has placed 1-2-1-2 in majors since last year’s Open, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be a threat again this week. Not only is Koepka a monster talent all on his own, with every weapon in the bag clicking, he’s got a secret weapon: caddie Ricky Elliott, who’s from Portrush and knows every hill, dale, hillock and swale on this course. He’ll be able to map out a route for Koepka, who’s talented enough to follow that map right to a Claret Jug.
Let’s dig on down through the ranks. Going off at plus-1600 are Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods. Of the three, look to DJ as the best bet. When he’s on, Johnson can catch and pass anybody this side of Koepka. Rahm is going to have to contain his natural tendency to freak out and lose his mind on a course that’s specifically designed to make one lose his mind. And Woods is getting that number because of name only; he might be able to scrap his way around this track, but his record at courses he’s never played is ... not sterling.
Justin Rose, who put in a good-but-not-quite-good-enough performance back in June at Pebble Beach, is at 20-1, which feels about right for an unpredictable major like this one. He’s been working at Portrush for quite some time, trying to get the feel of both the greens and the weather, so that’s good news if you’re looking to throw some cash his way. Also lurking: Matt Kuchar at 33-1; he’s just two years away from dueling Jordan Spieth right to a dramatic Open finish, and could close off a rugged year with a big victory.
Coming in at plus-2800 are several other intriguing players: Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson, Justin Thomas, Adam Scott and Tommy Fleetwood. Molinari’s the defending Open champ, and that seems like he’d warrant some better odds than this. Thomas has struggled of late, and Molinari’s Ryder Cup bro Fleetwood is as hot-or-cold as they come.
Speaking of Fleetwood, he’s one of a coterie of European players who always seem to turn up on the leaderboard early in the Open, names that are completely unfamiliar to American audiences. (If you’re not a golf writer and you claim you know who Callum Shinkwin or Curtis Knipes are, you’re lying.) Of that bunch, your best bet is probably Matt Wallace, coming off a T3/T12 at the PGA and the U.S. Open, at 50-1, or baby-faced Matthew Fitzpatrick at 66-1.
The long shots
If you’re looking for some deep value, Kevin Kisner at 100-1 is the trendy pick of late; his odds are already down from 125-1 after savvy bettors spotted that number and loaded up on it. Kisner has the flatstick to win at Portrush, but he’s failed in high-pressure major situations before. Proceed with caution.
Finally, a nostalgia pick: Lee Westwood at 125-1. Westwood, who dueled Sergio Garcia for the Best Never to Win a Major for a few years before Sergio won Augusta and Rickie Fowler showed up, would be a hugely popular champion. We can dream.
The X-factor in all of this? The weather. If a hell storm blows in from the Irish Sea, it won’t matter if Koepka is throwing darts or McIlroy’s seeing the cup three feet wide. The forecast is ... well, you can see for yourself. Pretty much everything’s on the table:
“This forecast may be amended at any time.” Like, minute by minute.
This is going to be fun. Get the coffee and energy drinks loaded up, folks.
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