A common question among golf fans and bettors is, "What is your favorite major?" If someone asks me that question in the springtime, my answer is The Masters. When someone asks me that question in the summertime, my answer is the British Open.
And this year the British Open is being played at St. Andrews, so go ahead and throw a few more layers of historical significance on top of it all. For the first time in seven years, and the 30th time overall, the British Open returns to the home of golf — for the 150th edition of the championship. The 2022 British Open is a special one, for sure.
When you have such a significant stage, storylines will undoubtedly emerge. The biggest one so far involves arguably the greatest golfer to have ever lived, Tiger Woods. Not knowing if he'd ever be able to play golf again, here he is competing in his third major championship of 2022. He made the cut at The Masters and the PGA Championship, but walking those courses wore on him over the weekend.
St. Andrews is very flat, unlike Augusta National and Southern Hills. Tiger has already won here twice in his career, in 2000 and 2005. He calls it his favorite course in the world and has said this will be his last chance to win a British Open at the Old Course. If he can withstand the 72-hole grind, and if experience plays a big role this week, Tiger has a shot.
But let's get back to reality here. St. Andrews, with its 112 bunkers, will play firm and fast this week. It is dried out. Playing short of the trouble will be difficult because of the run-out the ball will get. Playing past the trouble will be a challenge given where the ball may end up. Controlling one's distance and position off of the tee will be a big factor. Wedge play will need to be spectacular — from 125 yards and in — as all such short distances will be very much in play.
The Old Course is a unique Par 72. It has two Par 3s and two Par 5s to go along with 14 Par 4s. Par 4 scoring will obviously be very important. So, too, will three-putt avoidance. The greens are massive, with seven different green complexes being shared (two holes, one green). It won't be uncommon for players to face incredibly long putts, so getting down in two rather than three will go a long way.
Here are the full tournament head-to-head matchups I considered and those that I played for the 150th British Open:
Considered (29-29-2 YTD)
— Jordan Spieth (+ 130) over Rory McIlroy
— Scottie Scheffler (-115) over Matthew Fitzpatrick
— Dustin Johnson (-115) over Tyrrell Hatton
— Justin Rose (+ 115) over Max Homa
Played (27-24-1 YTD)
Rory McIlroy (-125) over Xander Schauffele: Like Woods, McIlroy also calls St. Andrews his favorite course in the world. He's played hundreds of rounds here and has had great success, including a third-place finish at the British Open in 2010 (he missed the event at St. Andrews in 2015 due to an injured ankle). At the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, an annual DP World Tour event at which two of the four rounds are played at St. Andrews, McIlroy has three runners-up plus a third- and eighth-place finish. Schauffele is currently on quite a run but I am not so sure that will carry over in full.
Shane Lowry (+ 100) over Matthew Fitzpatrick: I am high on Lowry this week. He's a tremendous links and wind player with a strong short game. He has all of the tools and, of course, a Claret Jug from his win at Royal Portrush in 2019. But much of this play is about going against Fitzpatrick. Yes, he's a brilliant player and one that I backed a week too early when I took him at the Canadian Open before he won the U.S. Open. That win at Brookline is why I’m shying away from him here. Having just won his first major at a historic venue where he also won the U.S. Amateur, I'm not sure he will be peaking for all four rounds this week. I'll take the underdog, who I believe should be the favorite.
Hideki Matsuyama (+ 105) over Louis Oosthuizen: I'm surprised by this price too. Oosthuizen won the British Open at St. Andrews in 2010 and Matsuyama’s British Open record is not sparkling, but I see Hideki as definitely the better player right now. Matsuyama did finish 18th here in 2015 and was fourth last month at the U.S. Open. Louis has taken his game to LIV Golf, so does he still have the same hunger with his pockets now lined with dollar bills? My stats aren't even close between these two coming in, so I will gladly take the plus money on someone who I again feel should be the favorite.
Don’t miss this week’s edition of “LongShots” for all of the plays from myself, Wes Reynolds, Matt Youmans and our special guest, Ben Coley of The Sporting Life. Available at VSiN.com/podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.