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2018 Open Championship – The Champion Golfer Of The Year Is…

2018 Open Championship - The Champion Golfer of the Year is...

Yesterday we discussed what challenges Carnoustie will pose to the golfers during this year’s Open Championship. Here’s a quick summary of what statistics and attributes to consider when looking over your betting ticket:

  • Proficient in relevant ball-striking statistics such as Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green and Strokes Gained – Approach
  • Solid wedge and a high lofted iron player from distances inside 150 yards
  • Adept scramblers, particularly from tight lies and out of bunkers
  • Good putters, particularly on slower surfaces (use to break ties if necessary)

Using these traits as a navigational guide towards dissecting all 156 golfers who will tee it up on Thursday morning, here’s who I think could be named the 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year (all odds courtesy of mybookie.ag):

Justin Rose – 16/1: I was very big on Justin Rose at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, but a lackluster final round ruined his chances to capture his second U.S. Open trophy. But I like him this week for all of the same reasons I did a month ago. Statistically, Justin Rose has been the best golfer in the world since mid-May, averaging 2.50 Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green over the field and 1.24 Strokes Gained – Approach. He also has been one of the better scramblers in golf this year, ranking 5th in Sand Save % and 10th in Scrambling – Other (from fairways and other non-fringe/rough locations) on the PGA Tour.

Last week he played in the Scottish Open for a tune-up to Carnoustie and though he was never a contender for the win, he played steady golf on his way to four consecutive rounds in the 60’s and a Top 10 finish. Like at Shinnecock Hills, Carnoustie will be not just a test of natural ability but of mental fortitude, and there are not many guys out there who are as cool between the ears as him. Though he’s struggled in the past at the Open Championship, his form at the moment is too good to ignore.

Rickie Fowler – 16/1: After all the near misses, is now the time for Rickie? The stars are starting to align for him and he certainly fits the profile of the type of golfer I envision holding the Claret Jug on Sunday – a premier ball striker (particularly with shorter irons,) a tremendous short game and one of the best putters in the world. Fowler also comes into the tournament in great shape, recording more than a stroke gained tee-to-green over his last four tournaments. But the question for him always comes down to if he can manage to find that extra gear when he needs it to carry him over the top.

At The Masters, he found it on Sunday but it was too little too late. At the U.S. Open he had his sights on the trophy heading into the weekend, but a 3rd Round 84 ruined his chances there. And some of his critics noted that he was in a bit of cruise control during the final round of the Scottish Open last week but let that slip away as well. I fell into that pitfall the week before the Masters when Rickie appeared disinterested over the weekend at the Houston Open, but I won’t this time. I’ll trust my profile for what it will take to win at Carnoustie and see if he can finally break through.

Brooks Koepka – 22/1: I’m not afraid of a letdown performance post-U.S. Open. There’s nothing in Brooks Koepka’s game that makes me doubt he can’t win his second consecutive major victory. He’s dominant in all facets of his game, whether it be off the tee, pinpoint accuracy with his irons or superb touch around and on the greens. Koepka is also a wonderful links golf player in his career in part thanks to his time spent on the Challenge and European Tour. He has two consecutive Top 10’s at the Open Championship and a pair of Top 10’s at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on his resume (of which Carnoustie is one of the roto courses of that event).

While his Strokes Gained – Approach statistic on the PGA Tour looks ugly, it primarily stems from course rust after his return from injury and over his last two events he’s averaged 1.4 strokes gained on his approach shots. Koepka has also scored well on approaches inside 150 yards this year and should set himself up nicely from that range with how well his strikes his driving iron off the tee. I could definitely see Koepka drinking Michelob Ultra from the Claret Jug on his jet ride home from the Open on Sunday.

Jason Day – 25/1: I haven’t heard a peep from anyone about Jason Day contending for the win this weekend. I think his dreadful performance at the U.S. Open after so many people had high expectations for him left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Or maybe it’s how much he’s struggled on his approach shots this year. When digging a little deeper, though, he’s tended to struggle more on longer approaches than on shorter ones, especially on shots 100-150 yards and in.

And given how tough it may be to hold greens this week, golfers with better short games will have a leg up over their competitors and there’s no one with a better short game right now than Jason Day. Day is also historically a strong player in winds and on slower greens. So long as he doesn’t suffer a debilitating case of chapped lips and force himself to withdraw on Friday, he should certainly be in the mix on Sunday afternoon to claim his 2nd major championship.

Others to keep an eye out on:

  • Tommy Fleetwood 18/1: He’ll be a very trendy pick this week after nearly stealing the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, and you’ll hear all week about how he has the course record at Carnoustie. While I love where his ball-striking is at heading in, he’ll need to improve his short game if he wants to take home the bacon. He’s struggled a bit in the relative scrambling statistics on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour all year. If he can play well on tight lies and out of bunkers, though, he’ll be in contention on Sunday.
  • Patrick Reed – 28/1: He’s playing with so much confidence after breaking through at the Masters and he loves playing on links-style courses over in Europe. All his relative ball-striking and short game statistics are on point for a contender at Carnoustie.
  • Marc Leishman – 40/1: He’s come oh-so-close at the Open Championship before, losing in a playoff to Zach Johnson in 2015 and holds a pair of other Top 10’s under his belt as well. He’s struggled with his driver this year, but fortunately for him, he won’t have to lean on that club this week. He normally is a trendy dark horse pick but I actually haven’t heard too much buzz around him this week. He’ll have to be better out of bunkers than he has been, but if so I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he won the war of attrition at Carnoustie.

Darkhorses

Ian Poulter – 55/1: It seems like 2018 is the Year of The Poulter. After battling injuries and nearly losing his PGA Tour card in 2016, he notched his first victory worldwide in Houston and has played some very steady, consistent golf. He’s virtually a lock to be named to the European Ryder Cup squad as at least a Captain’s pick, but maybe this week he removes all doubt in Thomas Bjorn’s mind. I liked Poulter at Shinnecock Hills because of his solid iron play, great scrambling and clutch putting and he proved me right for 54 holes before completely tanking on Sunday.

I think this time around he may be able to put it all together for the full 72. I like him at Carnoustie for all of the same reasons I liked him at Shinnecock on top of the fact he’s one of the best iron players in the world from 150 yards and in. With how much the ball will roll out in the fairway he’ll face plenty of shots from a distance he’s more than comfortable hitting. Plus, the last time the Open Championship was held on a burnt out course was at Muirfield in 2013, and he made a huge run on Sunday to nearly steal the Claret Jug from Mickelson. I like how he got a sneak peak of the conditions at Carnoustie by playing in the Scottish Open last week, and in a year that’s seen a resurgence in his game it’d be very fitting for him to finally put that elusive first major on his resume.

Lee Westwood – 70/1: Westwood hasn’t been around a whole lot of late because he’s now outside the Top 50 in the world and doesn’t have the exemptions into most major tournaments anymore. He’s also shifted back over primarily to play on the European Tour. He’s played sold golf overseas this year in most of the stat categories I’m looking at for a contender this week – 10th in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green, 26th in Strokes Gained – Approach and 66th in Strokes Gained Around-The-Greens on the European Tour in 2018.

The problem with Lee is anytime you think he’s in serious contention to finally capture the elusive major title, he poops down his leg over the weekend, especially with his putter, and knocks himself out of it. He played well at a baked out Muirfield in 2013 and held the lead into the final round, so maybe he can channel some positive memories and apply it to a firm and fast Carnoustie. There’s a certain element of luck that often decides the Champion Golfer of the Year and with the conditions, the course is in we may very well see something fluky happen during the final round. If he can hang around the Top 10 heading into Sunday, maybe he can steal the trophy.

Zach Johnson 100/1: Let me get this straight – Carnoustie will give shorter hitters more yards off the tee with the roll off the fairways and will reward golfers who are more adept with wedges and tremendous short games? That’s how ZJ won at St. Andrews in 2015, right? His play in 2018 checks a lot of boxes for what it’ll take to fare well at Carnoustie – 27th in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green, 18th in Strokes Gained – Approach and 26th in Strokes Gained Around-The-Green.

Zach Johnson has also scored best on shorter approaches with his irons this year and typically putts better on slower surfaces. Zach Johnson finished 6th at a baked out event at Muirfield in 2013 and has posted three straight Top 20’s in his last three starts. I can see a scenario where ZJ bunts his way around Carnoustie and captures another improbable major championship victory.

Ryan Fox – 110/1: Fox is relatively anonymous in the minds of most American golf fans but he’s played very good golf over on the European Tour in the weeks leading up to the Open Championship. Fox has made nine consecutive cuts and his best performances of late have come against stronger fields – T8 at the Italian Open, T2 at the Irish Open and T6 at the Scottish Open.

Fox is a huge hitter and has been one of the best all-around players on the European Tour this season by ranking 7th in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green, 52nd in Strokes Gained – Approach and 57th in Strokes Gained Around-The-Green. That’s enough for me to consider him on a Top 10 prop or target him in head-to-head matchups.

Brandt Snedeker – 125/1: Take away his disastrous performance at the Players Championship and Brandt Snedeker has played pretty good golf over the last few months. Even excluding the Players Championship, though, he’ll still need to be better than the ~0.5 Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green and on Approach, he’s recorded in his other events if he wants to contend this weekend.

What may carry him into contention, though, is his tremendous short game and putting that remains his biggest strength. Snedeker also has thrived in windy and tough conditions in his career and truly enjoys links golf. Snedeker deserves why-the-hell-not consideration on a longshot winner and at the very least for a Top 10 at 9/1 odds.

Charles Howell III – 250/1: Let’s get one thing straight – Charles Howell III will not be your 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year. But if you’re looking for a nice longshot on a Top 10 or Top 20 prop, he’s a guy who possesses the tools to be a factor over the weekend. Howell’s biggest strength is in his short irons and around the green, where he ranks 58th in Strokes Gained – Approach and 48th in Strokes Gained Around the Green.

He’s also an adept bunker player, ranking 30th in Sand Save opportunities on the PGA Tour. Howell hasn’t missed a cut since February and played well this year in his two starts on American links courses – T9 at Trinity Forest and T25 at the U.S. Open. He’s currently available at 9/1 to finish in the Top 20 on most books, and I expect him to make the weekend and post a solid finish.

Golf analyst for SportsGamblingPodcast.com, providing insight on news and betting tips for the PGA Tour, as well as commentary and banter on the World of Sports. Follow him on Twitter @SteveSchirmer

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