THE OPEN: As both the oldest and most democratic of golf’s four major championships, the Open is widely regarded as the sport’s most important tournament. The Masters is certainly unique and the U.S. Open may provide the toughest test, but the Champion Golfer of the Year is crowned in the British Isles every July, and to attain that distinction he must conquer one of the old, classic links courses that was built long before he was born and will be around long after he dies.
This year, that course is Carnoustie, where golf has been played since the early 16th century. The course itself has existed since 1842 and has hosted seven Opens, the most recent of which was won by Padraig Harrington in 2007. A punishing 7,400-yard par-71 that is replete with pot bunkers, OB stakes, and thick, gnarly rough, Carnoustie is universally regarded as the most difficult course on the Open rota, and if the wind blows it’s among the toughest tests in the entire world. Six-over was the winning score back in 1999, when Jean Van de Velde famously imploded on the 72nd hole and went on to lose to Paul Lawrie in a playoff. The weather was a bit better in 2007 and so the scoring improved, with Harrington and Sergio Garcia playing off at 7-under and Argentinian Andres Romero finishing just a shot back at minus-six.
This time around we may see the course play a bit differently, as the players are saying that it’s as firm and baked-out as they’ve ever seen it. That will certainly make it play shorter, but it will make holding the greens a challenge and will also make it more difficult to avoid the trouble that lines every fairway. Guys have been marveling at how far the ball is going, but I haven’t heard words like “easy”, “friendly”, or “straightforward” coming out of anybody’s mouth. I have a feeling that Carnoustie will live up to its reputation this week.
As is always the case with a major, BETDAQ’s Win Market is chock-full of quality players with nice, fat prices next to their names, so it’s a great week to make a little money on the exchange. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Jon Rahm (25.0)- A couple of months ago there was some concern that Rahm was getting in his own way– that his immaturity and fiery temper were preventing him from realizing his full potential as a golfer. But as you watch him perform week after week it becomes increasingly difficult to poke holes in the young Spaniard’s approach, as he just keeps on beating the guys with the supposedly better attitudes. He comes into this week on the heels of a T4 at the Irish Open and a T5 at the Open de France, giving him three top-5 finishes in his last four starts. And if we stretch it back to April, Rahm has five top-5s and a victory in his last seven starts (not counting the Zurich Classic, a team event). It’s been a remarkable stretch of golf, and Rahm shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. We know he’s comfortable with links golf after watching him blow away the field at last year’s Irish Open at Portstewart, and his virtuoso iron play could really set him up to succeed at Carnoustie, especially if the dry conditions take driver out of the players’ hands. He may not be as battle-tested as some, but Rahm is as talented as any player in the world and it’s only a matter of “when”, not “if”, he wins a major. I strongly recommend backing him at the current price.
Tyrrell Hatton (52.0)- Hatton hit a rough patch in the spring and has dealt with some health issues, but he’s found his footing again and seems primed for a big week. In his last three starts he’s finished T6 at the U.S. Open, T16 at the Open de France, and T9 at last week’s Scottish Open, where he opened with rounds of 65-64 to put himself right in the mix. That he played well at Gullane was no surprise, as Hatton has turned into something of a links specialist over the years– he’s a two-time winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links, a tournament that uses Carnoustie as one of its three courses, so essentially he’s had more success at Carnoustie than just about anyone in the field. All things considered, a bet on Hatton at better than 50/1 makes a lot of sense.
Tony Finau (110.0)- There may not be a player on the PGA Tour who has consistently exceeded expectations to the degree that Finau has over the past couple of years. Once regarded as a one-dimensional bomber with unrefined skills, Finau has developed into a consistent contender with the game to compete on any style of course. And he just keeps getting better– he has a pair of runner-ups on the PGA Tour this season, and in his last nine starts he’s found the top-25 seven times, a stretch that includes a T10 at the Masters and a 5th-place showing at the U.S. Open. While he’s admittedly short on links experience, he’s fared well when given the opportunity, finishing 27th at Royal Birkdale last year and 18th at Royal Troon in 2016. A win this week would be a career-changer for Finau, no doubt, but he’s proven that he’s not scared of the big moment and he should be well-accustomed to major championship pressure after playing in the final group on Sunday at Shinnecock last month. When it comes down to it, this is a chance to back an ascending top-20 player at better than 100/1. Sounds like a deal to me.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Rory McIlroy (1.81) vs. Jordan Spieth (2.04)
Spieth was extremely impressive in his wire-to-wire win at Royal Birkdale last year and he’s said all the right things heading into this week about his game being “refreshed” and “reenergized” and such, but he talked a good game heading into Shinnecock, too, and the fact remains that he has three missed cuts and zero top-20 finishes in his past seven starts. It’s tough to put a whole lot of trust in a guy with those sort of form figures, but Spieth is still getting plenty of respect in the market based on his past accomplishments. It would be a clear upset if he were to beat McIlroy this week, as Rory is just two starts removed from a T12 at the Travelers Championship and figures to contend at Carnoustie if his putter heats up. Recommendation: McIlroy at 1.81
Dustin Johnson (1.87) vs. Justin Rose (1.88)
Johnson has been able to overpower some links courses and has therefore fared pretty well in this event over the years, missing the cut only once in nine appearances and finding the top-10 three times, including a runner-up in 2011. But with the baked-out conditions at Carnoustie this week many expect the longer guys to be neutralized somewhat, and the driver certainly won’t be as big a part of the gameplan as it is most weeks. That means one of Johnson’s primary advantages– the ability to hit it longer and straighter than just about anyone– will be taken away, or at the very least muted. Rose is slightly less reliant on the big stick than DJ, and he’s in the midst of what may be the best stretch of golf of his illustrious career– six straight top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour, five top-10s in his last ten worldwide starts, and a three-shot victory at Colonial a few weeks ago. Recommendation: Rose at 1.88