In an age where the top golfers are hitting the ball 350 yards off the tee, taking sand wedges on Par 3s, and are regularly beating courses by more than 20 shots over 72 holes, there’s something quite wonderful about having the rare opportunity to follow a leaderboard where the players are focused on trying not to go backwards rather than endeavouring to go forwards. It doesn’t happen often these days, but if there’s one place we should try to ensure it happens every so often, it’s at the British Open, the ultimate test of links golf.
Where many Open Championship venues now offer players the chance to rack up really low scores if good enough, Royal Birkdale remains a course where any sub-par round will have been well and truly earned. Nine years ago Padraig Harrington won with a score of +3 in what was a slog to the bitter end, and ten years earlier level par had been good enough for Mark O’Meara to win via a play-off. Surely we’re in for another low scoring affair?
So who are the men likely to be still in contention come Sunday afternoon?
A quick check of the betting markets is usually a good place to start and straight away you can see that it’s a very open tournament, as you’d expect, with no standout favourite. Three Americans, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Ricky Fowler share the honour of favouritism for this year’s event and it looks a fair enough reflection of the state of things. Spieth is surely destined to win many more majors in the coming years and is coming off the back of a good win on the PGA Tour, whilst Johnson has taken his game to a new level over the last two years and is clearly ready to win more majors, despite his recent injury woes. Perhaps the biggest surprise in terms of market positioning is Ricky Fowler, who is still to win a major but has an excellent record of finishing in the top five in the biggest events. He’s got a decent links game but seems to offer less value at 16/1 than either of Spieth or Johnston at the same odds. Of the three, Spieth looks the most reliable option this time. He’s very happy digging in for a low 72-hole score and has spoken before of his confidence in his links game and his huge desire to win the British Open. This could be the year…
Next up in the betting are a couple of high class Spaniards who are both enjoying a great year. Sergio Garcia finally broke his major hoodoo at the Masters and Jon Rahm is the most exciting player to emerge since Jordan Spieth. At just 22 years old, Rahm has seven top 10 finishes already this season, and that includes a win at the Farmers Insurance Open and two runner-up finishes. To say he’s burst onto the scene is no understatement and his win at the Irish Open showed he was well over whatever caused him two missed cuts on the PGA Tour prior to that, including at the US Open. He’s a major talent but this may come too soon for him and 18/1 looks skinny enough. Sergio, on the other hand, has been doing pretty well considering his Augusta win is still sinking in and has the game to figure and could go on a major-winning spree now. Much stranger things have happened, that’s for sure…
The impressive, and dangerous Hideki Matsuyama comes next at 18/1 with Rory McIlroy available at 22/1 with Bet Way at the time of writing on 18th July 2017. The shortest priced Englishmen on the board are the ever-reliable Justin Rose at 22/1 and the emerging and bang in form Tommy Fleetwood at the same price. They’re both sure to be popular with the home crowds on their side and are not without a chance.
If you’d rather take a chance at bigger odds then Alex Noren, Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera-Bello could all give a good run for your money at 50/1 or bigger, but ultimately it’s the head of the market and Jordan Spieth who looks the most solid bet to lift the Claret Jug on Sunday at Royal Birkdale.
Whatever the weather, it’s going to be a great four days.