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The year’s final major, and seventh in the last 12 months, is upon us. This week’s Open Championship at Royal St. George’s will bring to an end a remarkable year in golf, and here to break it down are Yahoo Sports senior writer Jay Busbee and fantasy sports impresario Scott Pianowski.
BUSBEE: The Open Championship. The British Open. Whatever you call it, we’re back. To begin, sir, your thoughts on the one non-American major?
PIANOWSKI: There was a time when The Open was my favorite major. Let's never forget that golf originated in the UK, not America. Europe has always produced a bunch of swashbuckling star players, and I fell in love with the romance of it all.
The Open isn't my favorite major any more, though. The beauty and history of the Masters is undeniable, and I love when the U.S. Open really shows its teeth. The Ryder Cup always gets my juices flowing, too. Now I see The Open more as a welcome throwback, a knuckleball, a trip off the beaten path. And I guess we can also call it Glory's Last Shot (I'm still getting used to the relatively-new schedule).
BUSBEE: The mornings spent half-asleep on the couch watching this tournament are among the best sports mornings of the year (granted, there’s not much competition for that title). You bring up a sad but crucial point: this is our final major for the next nine months, thanks to the PGA Championship’s realignment a few years back. Man, it’s going to be a tough major-free stretch of golf until Augusta 2022.
Anyway, to the point. This is a very different visual experience for most American audiences, and not just because of the gale-force wind and rain. Links golf isn’t a common sight here, and Royal St. George’s single tree won’t put anyone in mind of Augusta. How do you think the course will go over with fans?
PIANOWSKI: For American golf fans, links golf is probably an acquired taste. I just got back from a delightful week of golf in upstate Michigan, and one of the days we played a true links course. Half of the crew liked it, half of the crew was nonplussed. It's not unusual to see well-struck shots wind up penalized, and the play around the green requires imagination, skill, and more than a little luck. (We did catch a break with the weather; it didn't rain, and on the day we played the links course, it wasn't windy. I pray we don't have benign conditions this week, because that can turn The Open into a snoozefest in a hurry.)
Let me be clear, I like a links setup. I like seeing more of the field having a legitimate chance. If this means we have another winner like Ben Curtis (out of nowhere) or Darren Clarke (into his 40s), I'm cool with it. They're obviously the last two winners when The Open came to Royal St. George's.
What type of player wins here? Give me someone with patience, with equanimity, with creativity around the greens. And I don't think this is a great spot for a due-for-a-major winner to emerge.
BUSBEE: So no Xander Schauffele? Duly noted. What kind of player do you think wins this week?
PIANOWSKI: My picks will focus on made men, players who already have their legacy in a safe place, or longshots who can play loose, knowing it's unlikely they're going to win so why stress over anything? Said a different way, as much as I'm all for the inevitable major coronation of Xander, I won't punch a ticket on him this week. (It kills me to say that.)
Can someone go Tom Watson on this tournament? (No, Stewart Cink, I haven't forgiven you for 2009; not sure I ever will). Some older players are in good form. Lee Westwood is in wonderful place with his game and with his life; having his wife on the bag agrees with him. Padraig Harrington finished fourth at the PGA and T18 at the Scottish Open last week. Westwood is 50-1 at Bet MGM and Harrington is 150-1. Why the heck not? They're in my penny stock file. (Is Ian Poulter old enough for this category? The Rod Stewart lookalike is in good form and we've seen him ride a hot putter before.)
BUSBEE: Lightning round. I’ll give you four names, you’ll give me your assessment. Ready? Jon Rahm.
PIANOWSKI: Rahm is the best golfer in the world right now, but you can't chase him at 8-1, at least I won't. It's worth noting that The Open has been his worst major by far, through his short career. That said, he did make a run last week at the Scottish Open, settling for sole 7th.
BUSBEE: Bryson DeChambeau.
PIANOWSKI: This doesn't look like Bryson DeChambeau week. Still settling into a new caddy relationship, and this is not a course you can bludgeon to death. Can he handle having a handful of good shots squirt into pesky areas? He's merely the ninth favorite on the Bet MGM page and I support that. I won't be surprised if he flies home Friday.
BUSBEE: Jordan Spieth.
PIANOWSKI: Spieth is the name player I'm most likely to get behind. He's already bagged three majors, including an Open Championship win four years back. When it comes to playing around the green, he's probably the best player in the world. He's rediscovered his long-game confidence this year. And he's got the makeup to handle the inevitable stops and starts you get at this event.
BUSBEE: Rory McIlroy.
PIANOWSKI: Something is missing with McIlroy. He didn't even make the cut at the Scottish Open, and his major resume this year includes a disappointing U.S. Open Sunday and no-shows at the two other events. He didn't make a run the last time The Open came here. I look forward to McIlroy having a comeback season soon, similar to what Spieth is doing now. But I can't call for it on spec.
BUSBEE: And now, the wagering. Each major, we gamble $100 (metaphorically, of course) and see where the chips land. Picking Jon Rahm last time around turned my entire year around, and I’m now sitting at $360.25 ($60.25 net), while you, my friend, are at $105 (-$195 net). But there’s always hope! Where are you placing your (virtual) money?
PIANOWKSKI: Maybe I’m too heavy on outrights, but you have to start there. Patrick Reed is a wonderful putter and can shut out the noise that inevitably follows him around. Put $10 on Reed at +2800.
As I alluded to earlier, Spieth is the big ticket I can’t leave off my sheet. Calmness matters. Equanimity matters. No one is more imaginative facing a difficult up-and-down. Ten bucks at +1800.
I’m going to give some love to the older chaps, as outlined above. Five bucks on Westwood (+5000), Poulter (+6600), Harrington (+15000).
Is there an American underdog in the house? Let’s go five on Kevin Streelman (+15000), Lucas Glover (+20000), and screw it, I can root for Cink for four days (+15000).
I know being due isn’t really a thing, but don’t the golfing gods owe something to Louie Oosthuizen? He’s been so damn close all year. If he were 20-1 or lower I’d Iook away, but at +2800, go ahead, take my money. Ten bucks.
I have $40 left. As tempting as it is to bet on some missed cuts (looking at you, protractor boy), let me try to hit for a single and put it all on Spieth to finish Top 20, even odds. And just like that, my wallet is empty.
BUSBEE: I’ll go $10 on Rahm (+800), $10 on Koepka (+1600) and $10 in goodwill on Westwood (+5000). I too like Spieth, so I’m throwing $10 behind a top-5 finish from Jordan (+400).
I’m going to spread a little top-20 money around to a few deserving lads: $5 apiece on Louis Oosthuizen (+120), Tyrrell Hatton (+150), Scottie Scheffler (+160) and Tommy Fleetwood (+200).
I like Rickie Fowler to step up here, so I’m putting $10 on him to be in the top 5 after the first round (+1200). And just to throw a Hail Mary, $10 on Koepka/Rahm to finish first/second in any order (+6600).
Because I have zero faith in DeChambeau right now, I’ll throw down $10 on him to miss the cut (+260) and offset that karmically with a fiver on Darren Clarke to make the cut (+300).
And finally, because I feel so bad for England, $5 for the Claret Jug to come home in the hands of an English player (+850). Either it’s coming home or my money is.
Good luck, my friend, and enjoy the tournament, everyone!
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him at email@example.com.
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