THE OPEN: There’s nothing quite like the Open Championship, and this year’s edition is already historic, as it’s only the second time in the event’s illustrious history that it will not be held in England or Scotland. Instead, it’s a return to Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush, a classic links that was originally built in the 19th century and was given its modern form by Harry Colt in 1932.
Royal Portrush is one of those courses that has taken on somewhat of a cult-like status among golfing aficionados, with many people I know preferring it (and other Irish gems like Waterville and Royal County Down) over some of the more well-known stops on the Open rota. And this course has been on the official Open rota for some time, as it hosted the event once before– way back in 1951. While much of the layout remains unchanged, there have been some significant alterations in preparation for this week, most notably the elimination of the 17th and 18th holes, which are to be used for the Spectator Village. In their place, two new holes were constructed by architect Martin Ebert, a 592-yard par-5 and a 434-yard par-4. They will be the 7th and 8th holes this week, and the subsequent holes have been shuffled around a bit, so the order in which they’re played in the tournament will be different from what the members are used to, at least on the back nine.
Between the new holes and major championship conditions, I don’t expect Royal Portrush to much resemble the course that hosted the Irish Open in 2012, where Jamie Donaldson posted a winning score of 18-under. Obviously the wind will have a lot to say about it, but I’d be surprised to see anyone sniff 18-under this week; based on the quotes we’ve been hearing from the players over the past couple of days, it certainly sounds like Royal Portrush has its teeth out.
Northern Ireland’s own Rory McIlroy (10.0) currently heads BETDAQ’s Win Market, which shouldn’t be the least bit surprising considering the way he’s played over the past few months. Course knowledge and gallery support definitely won’t be an issue for Rory this week, and it will be interesting to see whether he can hold up under what will surely be immense pressure, especially if he’s around the lead on Sunday. Other notables at the top of the market include Brooks Koepka (13.0), Jon Rahm (18.5), and Dustin Johnson (19.5), and as is always the case with majors, there are plenty of attractively-priced, viable options a bit further down the board. If you’re like me, this is one of those “empty the barrel” type of weeks… it should be fun. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Jon Rahm (18.5)- Though there are concerns about whether the mercurial Rahm has the emotional maturity to win a major, no one questions the talent– quite simply, Rahm has a top gear that maybe only 2 or 3 other guys in the sport can match. He hits it a mile, is a terrific iron player who is comfortable working the ball both ways, and can reel off birdies in bunches. He’s also a tremendous links player, as we saw once again with his victory at Lahinch two weeks ago– his second Irish Open title in the past three years. Rahm may have been disappointed in his play early this season, but he’s come fully out of it now and is playing the best golf of his young career, with his last three starts a T3 at the U.S. Open, runner-up in the Andalucia Masters, and the Irish Open victory. He’s clearly one of the favorites this week and is fairly priced at 18.5.
Bryson DeChambeau (52.0)- As most who follow golf know, DeChambeau is a bit of an odd duck. From his equipment-related quirks, to his unusual swing, to his quasi-scientific approach to the game, he definitely marches to the tune of his own drummer out there. This outside-the-box approach has made DeChambeau one of the world’s streakiest players: when he’s in a funk, he’ll miss cuts and look totally lost. But when he’s on, he’s a golfing robot who’s awfully tough to beat. With that in mind, his recent play should catch your attention: he finished 8th at the Travelers Championship last month and runner-up at the 3M Open two weeks ago, where he shot 62 on Friday and closed with a Sunday 66. Robot Mode: Activated. The only concern– and it is a significant one– is his lack of experience with links golf, though it should be noted that he made the cut at Carnoustie last year, and has spoken glowingly about the unique challenges that links golf presents. All things considered, I believe DeChambeau may be the best value on the board this week at better than 50/1.
Shane Lowry (100.0)- Though other Irishmen may garner more attention this week, Lowry has quietly rounded back into form over the past couple of months and may be well-positioned for another run at a major after famously letting the 2016 U.S. Open slip away. He’s found the top-10 in 3 of his last 6 worldwide starts, including a runner-up at the Canadian Open last month, and he hasn’t posted an over-par round on the weekend in nearly 3 months. He opened with a 66 at Lahinch two weeks ago before a tough Friday robbed some momentum, but he recovered with a 68 on Sunday to finish T34. He has loads of experience with links golf in general and at Royal Portrush specifically, and he won the Irish Open as an amateur back in 2009, so he knows what it’s like to thrive under the pressure of an adoring gallery. There’s a lot to like about Lowry this week, and his price has pushed me over the edge. Simply too long for a guy who has everything it takes to win the tournament.