COVID-19 prevented the British Open from happening in 2020 and allowed defending champion Shane Lowry to keep the coveted Claret Jug for two years. This week, the game’s oldest major championship returns to Royal St. George’s.
It was only a matter of time before Jon Rahm (8-1) won his first major championship, and it came last month in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Rahm teed it up for the first time in three weeks after his maiden major win and was in contention at the Scottish Open before settling for a seventh-place finish. However, he will not have the arduous task of winning the British Open as the No. 1 player in the world (last done by Tiger Woods in 2006 at Royal Liverpool). That pressure now moves to Dustin Johnson (18-1), who regained the OWGR No. 1 distinction despite not playing last weekend. DJ’s best finish in the British Open was a T-2 in 2011 at Royal St. George’s. He earned a win earlier this February in Saudi Arabia, but this has been a down year by his standards; however, DJ was the last OWGR No. 1 to triumph at a major (2020 Masters).
Like Rahm, World No. 3 Justin Thomas (20-1) has never earned a top-10 finish in the British Open and the reigning Players champion has had an up-and-down year but is looking to build off a T-8 finish at the Scottish. The “Bet Brooks Koepka at major championships” narrative is still prevalent, and his runner-up at the PGA Championship and T-4 at the U.S. Open already this year has done nothing to dissuade bettors from going right back to him again. He carries an 18-1 price this week.
There are only three players in this field that have three top-10-or-better finishes in the last five British Opens: Koepka, Rory McIlroy (18-1), and Jordan Spieth (18-1). Both McIlroy and Spieth have hoisted the Claret Jug. There is still some cynicism over whether McIlroy is back despite a victory in May at the Wells Fargo. Nevertheless, setting aside the missed cut in 2019 at Royal Portrush, McIlroy’s form line at the British Open reads 2-4-5-1 going back to his 2014 triumph at Royal Liverpool. Although Spieth is only ranked No. 23 in the OWGR, he is obviously considered a top player in the betting markets. Of the top players, Spieth has arguably been the most consistent in 2021 with a victory (Valero Texas Open), a runner-up (Colonial), two third-place finishes (Masters, Pebble Beach) and four other top-10s.
Since Rahm got off the major championships schneid last month, the current "best player to not win a major" moniker is firmly attached to Xander Schauffele (18-1), who has nine top-10 finishes in 17 career majors, including two in 2021: T-3 at the Masters and T-7 at the U.S. Open. Schauffele shared runner-up status at Carnoustie in the 2018 Open.
The last British Open at Royal St. George’s showed that the driver can be an advantage, but Bryson DeChambeau (28-1) has missed two of three cuts at the British Open. He figured out the U.S. Open in 2020 and eventually should figure out links golf, but it might be further down the line. Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland (each 30-1) are making their British Open debuts this week.
Englishmen Tyrrell Hatton (33-1), Paul Casey (35-1), Matthew Fitzpatrick (40-1) and Tommy Fleetwood (40-1) will all likely get some degree of support in the markets this week. Fleetwood was the runner-up at the last Open in 2019 to Lowry (40-1), the defending champion. Louis Oosthuizen (28-1) has finished runner-up in the last two majors, so his price has been cut nearly in half from what we would normally see.
The two Patricks -- Cantlay (33-1) and Reed (40-1) -- are both in the OWGR Top 10, but only Reed has posted a top-10 finish at the British Open (T-10 in 2019 at Royal Portrush).
This year marks the 149th British Open (established in 1860) and a return to the golf calendar in its customary spot starting before the third Friday in July. The British Open is sanctioned and governed by the R&A. It is always played on a coastal links golf course. Links golf is often described as the purest form of golf and keeps a connection with the way the game originated in Scotland in the 15th century.
The British Open trophy is the Claret Jug, which has been presented to the champion since 1873. The winner of the British Open is announced as "The Champion Golfer of the Year," a title that has been used since the first Open in 1860.
The British Open was supposed to be held at Royal St. George’s last year but was canceled due to COVID-19. It was the first year the major was not held since 1945 when it was canceled from 1940 to 1945 due to World War II. Previous pauses in British Open history were from 1915 to 1919 due to World War I and in 1871 when no trophy was available.
In terms of official recognition, the tournament has been an event on the European Tour since its formation in 1972. The PGA Tour added it as its first official event outside of the United States and Canada in 1995.
The top 70 and ties will make the weekend cut. If there is a playoff, then a three-hole aggregate playoff is held, followed by sudden death if necessary.
The field has 156 players.
Royal St. George’s, located in Sandwich, Kent, England, will host this year’s British Open for the 14th time. After St. Andrews, Royal St. George’s has hosted more Opens than any other course in the British Open rotation. Founded in 1887, Royal St. George’s hosted the first Open outside Scotland in 1884, won by Englishman J.H. Taylor.
The club was founded by surgeon Laidlaw Purves in 1887 in a setting of wild duneland. It has undergone several modifications over the past century, most recently completed by Tom Mackenzie and Martin Ebert in 2019.
The coastal links layout plays as a par-70 of 7,189 yards. St. George’s position on the southeast coast leaves it extremely open to the elements, particularly to the wind. Positioned on Sandwich Bay, the course is set on a flat piece of land with no protection from the English Channel and with no trees for protection.
Royal St. George’s is famous for tall sand dunes, deep bunkers and firm fescue (60%)/bentgrass (40%) green complexes with plenty of surrounding run-off areas. Even good shots on these generous fescue/bentgrass fairways can end up in untenable positions due to undulating fairways, which can lead to bad bounces.
The last Mackenzie and Ebert renovation included the restoration of the huge bunkers on the fourth and seventh holes, the return of a large bare sand area to the left of the fifth hole, conversion of two bunkers to the left of the 17th green into a swale and the reconfiguration of the bunkering at the 18th hole to offer more choices from off the tee.
Like all the tracks in the British Open rotation, the courses are often primarily shaped by nature, rather than built. Weather, particularly the wind, typically plays an important role. Open greens are typically slower than the average week on the PGA Tour, and this week will be no exception.
2019: Shane Lowry (-15/269), Royal Portrush; 66-1
2018: Francesco Molinari (-8/276), Carnoustie; 30-1
2017: Jordan Spieth (-12/268), Royal Birkdale; 14-1
2016: Henrik Stenson (-20/264), Royal Troon; 28-1
2015: Zach Johnson (-15/273), St. Andrews; 80-1
2014: Rory McIlroy (-17/271), Royal Liverpool; 14-1
2013: Phil Mickelson (-3/281), Muirfield; 20-1
2012: Ernie Els (-7/273), Royal Lytham & St. Annes; 40-1
2011: Darren Clarke (-5/275), Royal St. George’s; 200-1
2010: Louis Oosthuizen (-16/272), St. Andrews; 250-1
TRENDS AND ANGLES
• 8 of the last 10 winners had at least one top-5 finish in at least one of their six events before the British Open.
• 6 of the last 9 winners had at least one victory in at least one of their six events before the British Open.
• 14 of the last 20 winners had at least one worldwide victory earlier in the season.
• 8 of the last 10 winners were inside the OWGR Top 40.
• 8 of the last 10 winners had at least one top-15 in one of their three previous Open starts.
• 7 of the last 10 winners were 32 or older.
• 8 of the last 10 winners played the week prior.
• 13 of the last 14 winners had a previous top-10 or better in a previous Open.
• 11 of the last 11 winners had at least four career worldwide wins.
• 10 of the last 11 winners had played the British Open at least four times.
• 11 of the last 11 winners had at least one top-5 finish worldwide earlier in the season.
• 9 of the last 11 winners had at least four top-10 finishes earlier in the season.
In summary, experience matters and mostly players of a certain class end up hoisting the Claret Jug.
Royal St. George’s is not a particularly long course, checking in at a smidge under 7,200 yards. It will require stellar approach play, though.
Strokes Gained Approach
1. Collin Morikawa 41.6
2. Emiliano Grillo 27.8
3. Paul Casey 25.9
4. Daniel Berger 24.6
5. Rory McIlroy 24.5
6. Stewart Cink 23.2
7. Keegan Bradley 23.2
8. Charley Hoffman 22.8
9. Brooks Koepka 21.6
10. Jordan Spieth 20.7
11. Jason Kokrak 19.3
12. Shane Lowry 19
13. Sergio Garcia 18.8
14. Russell Henley 18.7
15. Viktor Hovland 18.1
Note: Last 24 rounds
There have been three British Opens since 2003 where the field hit less than 56% of the greens in regulation, and two of those were at Royal St. George’s. The fairways and greens both undulate and there are good shots that bounce in bad spots. The top three finishers at the 2011 Open (Clarke, Mickelson and Dustin Johnson) ranked second, third and sixth in the field that week for GIR.
1. Collin Morikawa 50
2. Jon Rahm 34.9
3. Daniel Berger 33.7
4. Emiliano Grillo 30
5. Xander Schauffele 29.4
6. Patrick Cantlay 28.9
7. Brooks Koepka 28.4
8. Louis Oosthuizen 27.1
9. Jordan Spieth 26.9
10. Shane Lowry 26.8
11. Keegan Bradley 26.3
12. Kevin Streelman 25.3
13. Paul Casey 25.1
14. Corey Conners 24
15. Rory McIlroy 22.4
Note: Last 24 rounds
Players must be long enough to carry the fairway pot bunkers that are very deep but also must be accurate enough as the rough is very deep and the undulations in the fairways can cause good shots to become bad ones.
Strokes Gained Off The Tee
1. Bryson DeChambeau 26.8
2. Jon Rahm 20.5
3. Matthew Fitzpatrick 19.6
4. Dustin Johnson 19.5
5. Brooks Koepka 18.9
6. Abraham Ancer 17
7. Keith Mitchell 16.6
8. Viktor Hovland 16.4
9. Sergio Garcia 15.7
10. Corey Conners 15.5
11. Justin Thomas 15.1
12. Collin Morikawa 15.1
13. Patrick Cantlay 14.8
14. Jason Day 14.7
15. Joaquin Niemann 14.2
Note: Last 24 rounds
Strokes Gained Ball Striking measures Strokes Gained Off The Tee plus Strokes Gained Approach.
Strokes Gained Ball Striking
1. Collin Morikawa 56.7
2. Brooks Koepka 40.4
3. Viktor Hovland 34.6
4. Sergio Garcia 34.5
5. Paul Casey 34.1
6. Jason Kokrak 32.7
7. Justin Thomas 32.7
8. Keegan Bradley 32.3
9. Corey Conners 31.7
10. Patrick Cantlay 31.5
11. Jon Rahm 31.4
12. Abraham Ancer 30.9
13. Charley Hoffman 30.2
14. Bryson DeChambeau 29.9
15. Daniel Berger 29.8
Note: Last 24 rounds
The last two Opens at Royal St. George’s have had winning scores of 5 under par and 1 under par, respectively. Creativity with the short game around the greens and making putts on greens with a different mix (60% fescue, 40% bentgrass) than players are used to will be paramount.
Strokes Gained Short Game measures Strokes Gained Around The Green plus Strokes Gained Putting.
Strokes Gained Short Game
1. Louis Oosthuizen 35.5
2. Brian Harman 31.9
3. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 31.1
4. Jordan Spieth 29.1
5. Harris English 28.8
6. Ian Poulter 28.1
7. Branden Grace 25.8
8. Adam Scott 25.1
9. Alex Noren 23.9
10. Kevin Kisner 23.9
11. Cameron Smith 23.6
12. Brandt Snedeker 19.7
13. Patrick Reed 18.6
14. Webb Simpson 18.4
15. Abraham Ancer 17
Note: Last 24 rounds
Royal St. George’s has some of the deepest pot bunkers in the entire British Open rotation. Players got up and down out of the bunkers just 34% of the time at the 2011 Open.
Sand Saves Gained
1. Matt Kuchar 9.1
2. Cameron Smith 8.3
3. Webb Simpson 6.2
4. Brian Harman 6.2
5. Russell Henley 6.2
6. Xander Schauffele 6
7. Francesco Molinari 5.7
8. Harris English 5.4
9. Marc Leishman 5.3
10. Patrick Reed 4.8
11. Paul Waring 3.8 (16 Rounds)
12. Robert MacIntyre 4.1
13. Henrik Stenson 4.1
14. Lucas Glover 3.4
15. Justin Thomas 3
Note: Last 24 rounds
Most of the recent Open winners have had a fair amount of links experience.
Strokes Gained Links Courses (since 2015)
1. Brooks Koepka 2.75 (50)
2. Xander Schauffele 2.5 (27)
3. Jordan Spieth 2.22 (53)
4. Tony Finau 1.92 (42)
5. Henrik Stenson 1.9 (52)
6. Justin Rose 1.89 (58)
7. Kevin Streelman 1.83 (24)
8. Jason Day 1.8 (51)
9. Jon Rahm 1.8 (45)
10. Tommy Fleetwood 1.74 (86)
11. Patrick Reed 1.73 (57)
12. Chez Reavie 1.69 (27)
13. Tyrrell Hatton 1.65 (83)
14. Dustin Johnson 1.57 (46)
15. Louis Oosthuizen 1.55 (48)
Notes: Number in parentheses indicates the total number of links rounds; the Strokes Gained are the average per links round.
Brooks Koepka 18-1
The “Bet Brooks Koepka in major championships” narrative continues because he keeps showing up in them and either winning or contending at the minimum. Koepka already has a runner-up at the PGA and a T-4 at last month’s U.S. Open. Since 2016, Koepka is 84 under par in majors, which is more than 60 strokes better than his nearest competitor, and four major championships in that time is double that of Dustin Johnson and four times that of anyone else in the field.
As indicated above, the statistics, particularly from a ball-striking standpoint, line up this week as does the links pedigree (three top-10s in his last four British Open appearances).
Fourteen of the last 20 British Open winners had a victory from earlier in the season, and Koepka checks that box with his win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Despite his injury and five missed cuts in 11 starts in 2021, Koepka still ranks 10th for SG Off the Tee, 10th for SG Approach and third for SG Tee to Green on the PGA Tour season.
Although he did not play the Scottish Open last week, Koepka’s last competitive tournament round was a 65 on Sunday at the Travelers, where he was No. 1 in the field for SG: Tee-To-Green on the way to a top-5 finish.
Rory McIlroy 20-1
McIlroy missed the cut last week at the Scottish Open. Eight of the last nine times he’s missed a cut worldwide, he’s finished in the top 20 the following start. In three of those instances, he won his next start.
While McIlroy is not quite at the peak form that explains the trend above, he has shown a little bit of life with new instructor Pete Cowen despite the missed cut in Scotland last week.
Rory is always strong off the tee, although his numbers have dipped this year with him letting the DeChambeau length get in his head a bit, but his approach game, which was struggling early in the season, ranks fifth in this week’s field over the last 24 rounds.
Last time at the British Open, McIlroy was playing essentially a home game at Royal Portrush, just one hour from his boyhood home. Everyone and everything pointed to him winning a second Claret Jug. Then, disaster struck immediately with a quadruple-bogey eight on the first hole and a triple at the 18th for a 79. He rebounded, though, shooting a course-record 61 on Friday to miss the cut by just one. McIlroy has been waiting two years for redemption at the British Open.
Jordan Spieth 22-1
After four years without a victory, Spieth finally returned to victory circle with a win in his home state in the Valero Texas Open, his first title since the British Open win in 2017 at Royal Birkdale.
Spieth missed the cut in his first event of 2021 but has made 13 straight since. Eleven of those cuts have been top-20s and eight in the top 10. He ranks fifth for Strokes Gained Approach, seventh for Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green, eighth for Strokes Gained Short Game (Putting + Around The Green) and No. 1 for Strokes Gained Total over the last 50 rounds.
While he has contended in only one of the three majors this season (T-3 at the Masters), that clearly has given him confidence that another major championship is within reach.
Spieth also has a game that fits links golf very well and allows him to tap into his creativity. He’s never missed a cut at the British Open and has two other top-10s to go along with his 2014 Claret Jug.
Tyrrell Hatton 34-1
Hatton climbed into the top 5 in the OWGR with a win earlier this year in Abu Dhabi. However, he has not been able to build on that feat with a good run in any of the first three major championships in 2021.
Nevertheless, Hatton returns to the British Open, where he has a fifth and a sixth in his last four appearances. He is a proven links player with two victories in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
He finished second at the Palmetto a few weeks ago and knocked off some rust last week at the Scottish Open, finishing with a 65 for his best round of the week.
In addition, he is a proven player in difficult, windy conditions with his win at Bay Hill last year.
Paul Casey 47-1
Oddly enough, the British Open is probably Casey’s weakest major throughout his career as he has posted only two top-10s and just one top-5 in 17 appearances.
Casey’s ball striking, approach and GIR numbers are all near the top of this week’s field.
He also has a 2021 victory earlier this season in Dubai, and has shown to be a solid contender in multiple big events thus far this season with a T-5 at the Players, T-4 at the PGA and T-7 at the U.S. Open.
Shane Lowry 50-1
Lowry has had possession of the Claret Jug for two years now and the Irishman will not let it go very easily.
He has not won since the 2019 British Open, but he has shown some signs in big events with a T-4 at the PGA, T-6 at the Memorial and an eighth at the Players.
The approach and overall tee-to-green game (top 15 in both) look to be in great shape, but the putting has been rough lately. A return to the slower greens at Royal St. George’s could be just what he needs to repeat.
Tommy Fleetwood 55-1
Fleetwood has improved at the British Open in each appearance, capped by a runner-up two years ago at Royal Portrush.
At the beginning of 2020, Fleetwood entered the OWGR Top 10, but now he has fallen to No. 35 because he has not won in a couple of years.
The form will not jump off the page, but the links experience should. No player in the field has played more links rounds since 2015 than Fleetwood.
Marc Leishman 70-1
Leishman has come close at the British Open a couple times, including the four-hole playoff loss in 2015 at St. Andrews to Zach Johnson. He also has a T-5 at Royal Liverpool in 2014 and a T-6 at Royal Birkdale in 2017.
A fifth at the Masters earlier this year was Leishman’s first top-5 in a major over the last three years, and he followed that up with a win two weeks later partnering up with fellow Aussie Cameron Smith to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Last time out, Leishman shot a Sunday 64 at the Travelers and nearly backdoored his way into that playoff before settling for third.
Rickie Fowler 80-1
Fowler missed the U.S. Open after failing to qualify. However, in his last major, he finished T-8 at the PGA. Before that finish at Kiawah Island, Fowler’s last top-10 in a major was last time out in the British Open with a T-6 at Royal Portrush. He was also T-5 last time at Royal St. George’s.
Fowler sits at No. 100 in the OWGR and is still working his way back.
His approach play has started to return a little as has his putter. He is a proven player in windy conditions and has always loved this championship, where his artistry and creativity very much come into play.
Lucas Glover continued a pattern in the 2020-21 PGA Tour season of players breaking long winless droughts by winning the John Deere Classic at 50-1 on Sunday. Glover had been winless on the PGA Tour since May 2011 when he won the Wells Fargo Championship. It is a dry spell of 10 years and three months. He moves up to 79th in the OWGR and will play in his first major of the year this week in the British Open.
Nevertheless, there is hardly ever a week off on the PGA Tour as the Barbasol Championship, canceled last year due to COVID-19, is now back in its customary spot as the alternate event to the British Open. Charl Schwartzel (20-1) will miss his first major championship of 2021 and will play this event instead. The R&A, the British Open organizer, takes field alternates based on the OWGR, and Dylan Frittelli received the last alternate spot based on the week ending July 4 cutoff date. Frittelli’s ranking was just two spots ahead of Schwartzel. Seamus Power (20-1) has top-10s (T-8 Rocket Mortgage Classic; T-8 John Deere Classic) in consecutive weeks. Luke List (22-1) finished T-4 last week at the John Deere. Russell Knox (28-1) had played in five straight British Opens but will play here this week attempting to rediscover some form. Knox was a top-20 player in the world less than five years ago. Taylor Pendrith (28-1) earned a spot in all the alternate events by finishing in the top 10 on the Korn Ferry Tour last year and the Canadian is fifth on this year’s KFT money list, so he looks bound for the PGA Tour next year. Greyson Sigg (33-1) is one spot ahead of Pendrith on the KFT money list with a Korn Ferry victory in May in Knoxville and finished in the top 10 on that tour last year. Also, in both this year and last year’s top 10 on the KFT money list is Lee Hodges (25-1). Patrick Rodgers, Richy Werenski, Stephan Jaeger, Tom Lewis, Adam Schenk, Davis Riley, Henrik Norlander, Nick Taylor and Brian Stuard make up a large group of players priced in the 33-1 range. The last champion of this event was Jim Herman (45-1) back in 2019.
The Barbasol Championship debuted in 2015 as an alternate event to the British Open. The first three editions were played at the Grand National course of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Opelika, Ala., northeast of Auburn, before moving to its present home of the Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, just south of Lexington, Ky.
Like other alternate events, the winner of the Barbasol Championship does not earn an invitation to the Masters and point values are limited due to the weaker field (24 OWGR points and 300 FedEx Cup points compared with 100 OWGR points and 600 FedEx points for British Open winners). However, the winner still receives a two-year PGA Tour exemption and a trip to the PGA Championship.
Players have just four weeks to improve their positions in the FedEx Cup standings with the PGA Tour taking a week off the schedule for the Olympics.
The Champion Course at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., has played host to the Barbasol Championship since 2018. The track was originally designed in 1987 by Arthur Hills and was made over in 2016 by J. Drew Rogers. It plays as a par-72 of 7,328 yards and is a relatively easy track for these professionals with 23 under and 26 under winning the last two editions of this tournament. There is a large lake in play at the end of both nines; however, this course is gettable. The Bentgrass fairways are undulating but very generous and players will be hitting into large and receptive Bentgrass greens.
2019: Jim Herman (-26/262); 350-1
2018: Troy Merritt (-23/265); 50-1
Charl Schwartzel 20-1
Schwartzel is a bit of a narrative street play here. The former Masters champion would have had a spot in the British Open this week had the R&A gone with the OWGR cutoff at the end of last weekend. Nevertheless, this is probably a better spot for him.
He has made 11 of 15 cuts with a season-best finish of T-3 at the Byron Nelson and made the cuts at the Masters (T-26) and U.S. Open (T-19).
In this week’s field, Schwartzel ranks second in SG: Total, third in SG: Tee-To-Green, third in SG: Ball Striking, and ninth in SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds.
Beau Hossler 40-1
Hossler lost over five strokes on approach in two rounds, lost 3.6 strokes to the field tee-to-green and missed the cut at the John Deere.
However, he had gained 16.6 strokes on the field tee-to-green in his three previous events on the way to a top-20 at the Palmetto, a top-10 at the Travelers, and a top-25 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
He also is 146th in the FedEx Cup standings and needs a good week soon.
Chesson Hadley 60-1
Hadley is 117 in the FedEx Cup standings and needs a high finish over the next few events to secure his PGA Tour card for next season.
He finished T-2 at the Palmetto Championship a few weeks ago after starting Sunday with a four-shot lead. Hadley ended his round (4-over 75) with three bogeys to lose by a stroke. It certainly was the "giant dumpster fire of a finish" that he dubbed it.
Nevertheless, he posted his best numbers on approach in a calendar year last week at the John Deere.
Bo Hoag 66-1
Hoag sits 130th in the FedEx Cup standings and just five spots away from being at or inside the 125.
After a spring slump of missing six consecutive cuts, he has made three of his last four.
He ranks 11th in this week’s field for SG: Approach and 16th for SG: Ball Striking.
Camilo Villegas 80-1
Villegas is another "bubble boy" when it comes to the FedEx Cup over the next few events as he sits 114th.
He ranks fourth in this week’s field for SG: Approach, fifth for SG: Around the Green and fifth for SG: Tee-To-Green.
Vincent Whaley 90-1
Whaley sits 139th in the FedEx Cup standings and has cooled off from the consistent form he showed in the spring with three missed cuts in his last four events.
However, he has posted decent numbers of late despite the missed cuts. He ranks top 20 in this week’s field for SG: Total, SG: Short Game and SG: Around The Green.