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Longer shots attractive at British Open

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A month ago, Jon Rahm was considered the best golfer never to win a major, a label that can be heavy baggage to carry. He shook it off and delivered a clutch performance to claim the U.S. Open title, and suddenly he’s a strong favorite to win back-to-back majors.

The oddsmakers’ starting point for the British Open, which begins Thursday at Royal St. George’s in England, is obvious. Rahm, the 9-1 favorite at the Westgate SuperBook, has to look way over his shoulder to find the second choice, Brooks Koepka, who’s at 16-1.

“That’s a pretty large gap, but it’s warranted with the way Rahm is playing,” Westgate golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “He got the monkey off his back by winning the U.S. Open, and he can play more freely.”

The 26-year-old Spaniard known as “Rahmbo” is on a roll. In early June, Rahm led the Memorial in Ohio by six strokes after a third-round 64 but was forced to withdraw because of a positive COVID-19 test. He emerged from quarantine to win at Torrey Pines in San Diego in mid-June. On Sunday, he finished two shots back at the Scottish Open, the tuneup event for this week.

Current form is the most dependable and relevant handicapping tool to use because the course is foreign territory to most of the top contenders. The British Open was last staged at Royal St. George’s in 2011, when Darren Clarke was a long-shot winner at 200-1. He finished three strokes ahead of Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, who tied for second.

Johnson and Rory McIlroy are listed in the 18-1 range, yet both are slumping. McIlroy, who missed the cut last week at the Scottish Open, missed the British cut two years ago on his home course at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. He has no major wins since 2014, when he won the British and the PGA.

The British is typically considered the most unpredictable of the four majors. Rain and wind will be in the forecast at Royal St. George’s on the southeast coast of England, and European players are better conditioned for links golf.

“What you tend to see is the guys who play the Euro tour have lower odds than the American players,” Sherman said. “You could get a guy at 200-1 or 300-1 who wins this thing.”

Rahm, who went into the U.S. Open as the 10-1 favorite, has seven career wins on the European Tour. Still, staring at the sun and betting on the favorite at single-digit odds are not advised.

Look deeper down the board at these players who could stop Rahm’s roll (Circa Sports odds):

Brooks Koepka (18-1): The four-time major winner’s best finish at the British was a tie for fourth two years ago. He has faded on Sunday in three recent majors, but he tends to rise to the occasion on the toughest courses. Since 2015, Koepka ranks No. 1 in strokes gained on links courses, with Xander Schauffele second and Rahm eighth. Koepka is a solid bet to be in contention on the weekend and give his betting backers a good run for the money.

Jordan Spieth (21-1): The 2017 winner of the Claret Jug is one of three players, joining Koepka and McIlroy, to have three top-10 finishes in the last five British Opens. “Although he has been quiet in the last two majors, Spieth has maintained arguably the most consistent form of any top player this year,” said VSiN handicapper Wes Reynolds, who noted Spieth ranks fifth for strokes gained approach, seventh for strokes gained tee to green, eighth for strokes gained short game (putting plus around the green) and No. 1 for strokes gained total over the last 50 rounds.

Viktor Hovland (35-1): The hottest young gun on the Euro tour is Hovland. The Norwegian, 23, won the BMW International Open in Germany in late June, a week after withdrawing from the U.S. Open with a bizarre eye injury. Sherman said he’s high on Hovland, who has two PGA Tour titles since December, even though it’s his first British start. 

Louis Oosthuizen (36-1): Since his only major victory at the British in 2010, Oosthuizen has recorded runner-up finishes in all four majors, including last month’s U.S. Open. The South African was in position to win at Torrey Pines before Rahm stole the show. Oosthuizen sports an all-around game that allows him to compete on all types of courses. “While Louis hasn’t had a top-10 finish in the British since he was runner-up at St. Andrews in 2015, you can’t look past his form coming in,” professional handicapper Jeff Sealey said. “He’s in great form, with top-10s in three of his last four tournaments.”

Matt Fitzpatrick (44-1): This is sort of a home game for England’s Fitzpatrick, who came up short Sunday in a three-man playoff at the Scottish Open. His best showing at the British was a tie for 20th in 2019, but at 26, he’s young and on the upswing. “For Fitzpatrick it comes down to his irons, which have been hot and cold lately,” Sealey said. “He is going to gain off the tee, and he generally putts well, so if his irons are there, I expect to see Fitz in the hunt.”

Daniel Berger (67-1): VSiN handicapper Brady Kannon said he likes Koepka and Spieth at shorter odds, and his long-shot pick is Berger, who’s off a top-10 finish at the U.S. Open and has missed only two cuts since July 2020. “He grew up playing golf in Florida and thus is well versed on how to deal with the wind,” Kannon said. “Berger employs a lower ball flight, which bodes well for links-style golf. British Opens are generally attacked from along the ground, unlike American designs, where players hoist the ball as high as possible and attack from high above the surface. Berger’s iron play is suited favorably for links golf. Hitting greens in regulation will be difficult at Royal St. George’s, and there are few better than Berger, who ranks eighth on the PGA Tour in GIR percentage. He’s 14th in strokes gained approach and ninth in par-4 scoring, which will be important on a par-70 track that features 12 par-4 holes.”

Ian Poulter (95-1): This long-shot play is all about current form and home-course advantage for a player from England. Poulter narrowly missed the Scottish Open playoff and tied for fourth after a phenomenal Sunday rally. He comes in with momentum and the all-around game to be a contender at Royal St. George’s.

Matt Wallace (155-1): Another long-shot Englishman, Wallace owns four career wins on the European Tour, has been in the hunt several times on the PGA Tour in the last two years and seems to be peaking at 31. He’s close to a major breakthrough, and the price is right.

 

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