The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale for the first time since Padraig Harrington hoisted the Claret Jug in 2008. Henrik Stenson is set to defend his first major championship title this week. Here is a preview and a power ranking to get you off and running in your research.
When considering major championships that operate on a rotation, I like to take a hard look at the past champions at venue. Royal Birkdale has hosted on nine previous occasions. While the three most recent winners of Harrington, Mark O’Meara and Ian Baker-Finch are all solid champions, they don’t rival the true class of champions at this venue. Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer are all winners here. That’s a heck of a big four.
What that suggests is that we can expect a classy winner this week. The biggest chance of a fluke winner would be crazy weather. While there is some rain in the forecast, that’s not crazy by Open standards. While anything can change regarding the forecast, all signs point to a decent weather week. That means an elite winner.
The Open Championship is obviously a different test than what PGA TOUR players see most weeks. Because of that, there are certain players that tend to play well in the Open. It also tends to be a tournament friendly to veterans. Phil Mickelson’s recent win, as well as Stenson breaking through after the age of 40 are only the most recent reminders.
As always, it’s never a bad idea to give players with solid current form a hard look. Toss all of that together and here comes this week’s power ranking!
1. Rickie Fowler – This has been the year of studs breaking through in majors, and Fowler is next in line. Sergio took the green jacket and Brooks Koepka nabbed the U.S. Open. Fowler has been good in Opens, making six of seven cuts with two top fives including a T2 in 2014 at Hoylake. He’ll be ready.
2. Sergio Garcia – He’s played the Open Championship better than any other major over the years. Now that he’s got the monkey of winning a major off his back at Augusta National, this could be a bit of a 1998 repeat. O’Meara won the Masters late in his career back in 1998 before coming to Royal Birkdale and double dipping. Garcia has two runner-up finishes, five top fives and 10 top 10s. Do not sleep on him.
3. Brooks Koepka – The sky is the limit. While he can be a bit frustrating in terms of consistency in lesser tournaments, he’s been an absolute stud in the majors the last two years. His trend in this particular tournament is MC-T67-T10, though he did not play last year due to injury. He fits the trend of a classy winner, as his U.S. Open win will not be his last major championship.
4. Dustin Johnson – World numero uno has his runner-up in this event (2011) to go with a total of five top 15s in eight attempts. It’s a bit cliché to say he’s a threat any time he tees it up, but that’s just the fact of the matter. It is a bit of a concern that he missed the cut at the U.S. Open, but the silver lining is that it sort of has him flying slightly under the radar.
5. Jon Rahm – Plenty of talent, but must tame his temper. The Open Championship can test a player’s patience. He tied for 59th a year ago, but he’s entered a completely different stratosphere in the last 12 months. Picked up his second win of the calendar year at the Irish Open in his last start.
6. Justin Rose – His T4 at Royal Birkdale in 1998 remains his best finish in the Open Championship. In fact, it is one of just two top 10s, which is hard to fathom. He has made 10 of 15 cuts, with seven top 25s, so it’s not like he’s been absent from contention over the years. In the midst of a great season, so all lights are green.
7. Jordan Spieth – Not unlike Rahm, Spieth picked up his second win of 2017 in his last start. That was his first look at TPC River Highlands in the Travelers Championship. Barely missed out on a spot in the playoff at St. Andrews in 2015, so he can hang in Opens. If he’s still on the board at number seven, gobble him up.
8. Henrik Stenson – The last time the Open came to Royal Birkdale, Harrington successfully defended his 2007 title (Carnoustie). The Swede will try and conjure up similar magic this week. A big factor in his corner, he tied for third at this venue in 2008.
9. Hideki Matsuyama – An elite ball-striker, Matsuyama has a T11 at the Masters and a T2 in the U.S. Open this year. He’s made three of his four cuts in the Open, with a top 10 and two top 20s on the ledger. If he’s in the mix on Sunday, he will know how to handle the moment.
10. Rory McIlroy – He’s searching. That’s the known. What’s also known is that his last two Open Championships have gone Win-T5, noting that he had to skip the 2015 edition with an injury. What we don’t know is if he can get past his present poor form and put it all together this week.
11. Phil Mickelson – Since 2011, Lefty has a win and two runner-up finishes at the Open Championship. His history at Royal Birkdale features a T19 in 2008 and a 79th in 1998. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t won since the 2013 Open, but that’s where we sit. Oh, by the way, he doesn’t have Bones on the bag.
12. Justin Thomas – This is a bit of an experiment, as this is just the second time Thomas has teed it up in the season’s third major. Last year resulted in a T53.
13. Tommy Fleetwood – I wanted to fall in love with him, but missed cuts in each of his previous three Opens make that a bit of a stretch. His last four starts have gone 4 (U.S. Open)-T6-Win-T10. He has immense talent and is on fire. The big question is, can he reverse his tournament history in this event. It seems likely.
14. Brian Harman – Among the biggest surprises of the 2016-17 season with a huge year to date. He has five top 10s in his last eight starts including a win and a T2 in the U.S. Open. His brief experience in this event includes a T26 and a missed cut.
15. Bryson DeChambeau – After wandering through the wilderness for most of 2017, the huge talent turned it around in the last four weeks with at T26-T17-T14-Win. It’s impossible to know what comes next, but he’s absolutely a dangerous player this week now that he’s dialed in.
Check back on Tuesday to see how all of the Rotoworld staffers land on this week’s picks in Playing the Tips.