Golf's manic summer continues this week with the season's third major, The Open Championship at Royal Troon. We're in a new post-Tiger era where there's no overwhelming favorite carrying ridiculous 3/1 odds like the Big Cat did for so many years. The odds are different in various places, but there are four real "favorites" and they are the Big Four of Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. Here's our attempt to try to make sense of this 145th edition of The Open and pick a winner.
Who's your dark-horse pick to win or contend down the stretch on Sunday? (ideally odds 60/1 or higher)
Kyle: To win? How about Danny Lee. Wrote about this a bit more in depth in our 156-1 rankings, but he's been in good form in 2016 and is coming off a nice showing at the Scottish Open. But if we want a long-shot contender, HEY JUSTIN LEONARD HOW YA BEEN BUDDY. We always seemingly get one guy that turns back the clock -- how about the 1997 champion at Troon?
Emily: John Daly, of course! He'll ride that one-handed putting style he unveiled in the final round of last week's Champions Tour event all the way to the trophy ceremony (where some R&A dude will mistakenly call him "Patrick," but no one will care because it turns out that's Daly's actual middle name). After all, it's been that Claret Jug Long John's been beckoning for since he joined the over-50 gang earlier this year.
Brendan: I think Marc Leishman has good value at 80/1. He was the runner-up last year in that playoff with Zach Johnson and is coming off a top-20 result at the U.S. Open. Leishman is a name that has popped up on the first page of leaderboards at several majors in recent years, and he seems to be having his standard season to this point. Can you call someone who has finished inside the top five of the last two Opens a dark horse? I don't know, but he's 80/1 and a great outside name to keep in mind.
Is there a first-time major winner out there this week? How about a super random long shot (like Todd Hamilton!)?
Emily: For a first-time winner, you have to go with the People's Choice: Sergio Garcia. The former El Nino's on a mini-tear, finishing T5 at the U.S. Open after winning the Byron Nelson a month earlier. He also shared second place two years ago, T6 in 2015 and owns seven other top 10s in The Open. There is the matter of his missing the cut in his lone Royal Troon start, but that was way back in 2004, so no worries, right, Sergio fans?
Kyle: I won't be picking one -- but The Open always lends itself to the long shots a bit. I like the way Harold Varner III's looked in recent weeks. He might be worth a look. But if we're reaallllly going off the map, let's go with ... uh, uh, yeah I don't know. Robert Rock? Sure, go with that.
Trevor: Who is Todd Hamilton? Seriously, can you believe that Colin Montgomerie has the same odds as Colt Knost? Something is not right here. But this is a championship that has recently produced some strange winners we thought were past their prime -- Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, etc. It's definitely possible to get a first-time winner this week, maybe even Sergio Garcia ;)
Mark: How about Tony Finau. He's at 200/1 and while he's struggled in big events recently, he has looked capable of contending in a major before. He crushes the ball and Royal Troon figures to be a bomber's paradise, especially if the wind holds off.
Who is one big name, or a couple stars, you expect to bomb out early and never contend at Troon?
Emily: Bubba Watson — The Open Championship is an event that really doesn't fit Bubba's eye. Sandwiched between a missed cut in 2010 and two straight MCs in 2014 and 2015 were lackluster T30, T23 and T32 finishes. The two-time Masters winner could be looking at his third successive early exit from The Open.
Mark: Justin Rose hasn't traditionally played all that well in Open Championships. He finished T6 last year, but has missed the cut three times in his last six appearances. He didn't play in the 2004 Open at Royal Troon, so he doesn't have the experience to pull off of either.
Trevor: Rickie Fowler has been struggling recently and even though he has put together some good finishes at The Open, he's a name player your'e still worried about missing the cut. On the plus side, he did drink out of the Claret Jug during the lead up to the Open.
Kyle: I'm still selling Fowler quite hard. I've yet to see anything much to reassure me his game's in a better place than it's been at earlier major championships this year. Also Bubba and Opens don't mix, ever, usually.
Brendan: Bubba, Rickie, Rosey ... we've covered the big ones already. Should we be worried about Phil Mickelson? He started so much stronger this year compared to that 2015 flop, but he's yet to make a major cut in 2016. As always with Phil, he could easily eject early on Friday afternoon or win the whole damn thing on Sunday -- both seem like very real possibilities. Proceed with caution.
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Where does the season's third major rank for you among the game's biggest events? What about when it's at Royal Troon?
Brendan: I've made my feelings pretty clear on the matter already -- I think it's the best major in golf, and a big part of that is its unique identity, especially for an American golf fan. While Royal Troon does not have the cache of a St. Andrews, the links golf, weather and time change make it the perfect July tradition.
Trevor: I love being able to wake up early in the morning and watch live sporting events and The Open might be the best one. The tradition, the style of golf played and the overall vibe make this my second-favorite major behind the Masters. Plus, it's OK to drink a beer early in the morning, which I am always a fan of.
Mark: The Open Championship ranks as my third major championship of the year. I love the history of the event and the courses are always great, including Royal Troon. The only reason it slots below the Masters and U.S. Open for me is because of the weather. The weather is such a major factor that I think it detracts from the tournament at times. Contending is not always about playing the best, but getting the right draw to get favorable weather conditions.
Kyle: For anyone outside the U.S., it's probably golf's greatest honor to be Champion Golfer of the Year. But links golf tends less to reward and find the best player in the world. It's so fluky and so different that it's unique from the majority of tracks most U.S.-based players will see all year. But it's different -- and it's a blast. The thing I don't like? Waking up at 3 a.m. all week.
Brendan: Spieth has been pretty candid about the uneven spurts in his game this season. It's quite possible that 2015 was the best year of his career, which is totally fine and acceptable -- it was an historic season! But that did reset some of the external framing of how we think about The Golden Child. He's admitted his game has not been as strong this year, but he didn't have it at Augusta and that didn't stop him from having a five-shot lead at the turn on Sunday (can't remember what happened next). I think Jordan will finish inside the top 25, but go quietly like at Oakmont. "Quiet" has a new definition for him this year after the history he made in 2015.
Emily: The self-styled "gunslinger" is trying to pick up the pace of his play, smile more and believes he eliminated the two-way miss on his way to a T3 finish at Firestone. He came so close to racking up the third leg of the Grand Slam in 2015, when he came in T4 at St. Andrews, and his putter should keep him in contention this time around. But everything seems harder for the two-time major winner this year — much as Rory McIlroy predicted it would be.
Mark: I think the only thing certain about Spieth's week is he will get caught on camera complaining about the weather or conditions. Some yelling at the wind seems highly likely. It also seems likely that Spieth finds his way into contention. He is among the best grinders in the game and The Open can be the biggest grind of the year.
Trevor: The Golden Child always has a way of moving into the mix in majors and his T3 at the Bridgestone bodes well for his chances at Troon. Let's not forget how close he was to doing something extremely special at St. Andrews last year. Top 10 for him seems like a good bet.
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Emily: Rors has a love (2 top-3 finishes, including his 2014 win)/hate (T60, T47, T25 results in his other starts as a pro) relationship with The Open. He so wants to make up for that ankle-related DNP last year at St. Andrews but a missed cut at the U.S. Open was not a good sign.
Brendan: The pressure should be on Rory after he took the mic and napalmed everything around him in his Tuesday press conference, crushing the Olympics, questioning golf's anti-doping measures and rebuffing questions about him being the "Ringo" of a potential big four. McIlroy has made multiple statements over the past month that his swing is not where he wants it to be. This included an intense session with swing coach Michael Bannon in the middle of the U.S. Open, which is never a good sign or ideal time for that. Rory is too talented to be missing major cuts like he did at Oakmont. I suspect he's back playing on the weekend at Troon, and the softer conditions suit him well. But I think, given his own statements, that his game is not fully there to contend this week.
Mark: It will be interesting to see how McIlroy plays after missing the event due to injury last year. I also wonder how he is mentally, having come under some fire for his comments about the Olympics. It seems that at times McIlroy struggles when his mind is in too many places and I think it might set up to be that sort of week for him at Troon. McIlroy also hits the ball so high and this week a lower, penetrating ball flight is probably better suited.
Trevor: He's playing the best of anyone in the world right now and he has the potential to abuse Troon with his NSFW length off the tee. If his putter cooperates and he can keep his head on over the weekend, it could be a second straight major for DJ.
Mark: Johnson's distance should be a major boost this week. And the pressure is off after winning the U.S. Open. I don't think he goes back-to-back, but probably plays well enough for a top-20 finish.
Emily: Tiger Woods' protégé may be pressing in his quest to emulate the way his mentor closed out tourneys an incredible 67 out of 77 times worldwide when he was the 54-hole front-runner or tied for the lead after three rounds. But the world No. 1 has five consecutive top-10 finishes in majors, and though he brings memories of coughing up the lead at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational two weeks ago, he says such failure — as well as coming close in 2015 at St. Andrews (T4) — motivates him to finish the job this year. He's the oddsmakers' favorite, and with good reason, though he may have taken his hero worship a bit too far: An unconfirmed rumor (that I just started) has it that Day popped his rib back into place during a Tuesday practice round (see Tiger, wrist bone, 2015 Masters).
Brendan: Day seems injury "prone" ... I guess would be the word? But I'm not too concerned about reports of some sort of rib or whatever it was popping for a split second during a practice round. I expect Day's length and putting ability to carry him to another top-five finish at The Open.
Who's your winner of the 145th Open Championship?
Mark: It's not exactly going out on much of a limb to pick the No. 1 player in the world, but I'm still going to do it. I love Jason Day's game and how it fits at Royal Troon. His distance will play especially well and give him an advantage. I also like his creativity and shot-making ability under Open Championship conditions. It also doesn't hurt that he's been playing as well as anyone has in recent years. I'll take Day at 8-under to win.
Kyle: Welcome to the summer of Sergio.
Emily: I was in on Jason Day getting his second major in as many years, but yet another report of a possible rib injury on Tuesday at Troon has me a little worried. Dustin Johnson — the story within the story this week is whether DJ can win three straight tourneys after capturing his first major at the U.S. Open and following up with a W at Firestone. His length off the tee is always an advantage and his improved short game and putting put him right up there as one of the guys to beat this week. We’ll just go ahead and ignore the eye injury Johnson may have sustained Tuesday night.
Trevor: This is finally the week Sergio Garcia gets it done. I am a sentimental guy and if DJ can break through at the U.S. Open, I want to believe Sergio can make it happen at Troon.
Brendan: I'm not taking the No. 1 player in the world, but my pick this week is just as safe and predictable. I try to avoid the bandwagons and easy choices in this spot, but I like Dustin Johnson to win his third straight tournament. He adapts perfectly fine to links golf, contending and leading at The Open in the past. He's the hottest player in the world, and arguably the most talented. His length will help him in the wind, and when it's calm and he can bomb into some of Troon's shorter opening holes. His current form and history at The Open make him the clear choice this week. The DJ era (which might be one summer?) has arrived.
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