Expert Picks for The Open Championship
We reach the third of four major events on the professional golf calendar and, despite assertions to the contrary, we have been blessed with one of the most entertaining and competitive campaigns in recent memory. Nearly one third of the PGA Tour event have been won by golfers claiming their first professional victories. The others have been shared by a respectable group of the game's elite as well as the sport's top rising talents. We've witnessed some amazing battles and several superior efforts, and now we try to piece it all together to determine the right plays for this week's British Open.
This season's event will be hosted by the Royal St. George's Sandwich in Kent, England, a course of tremendous history and allure. This course was the first to host the Open Championship outside of Scotland in 1894 with 13 Open Championships played on these links since. While it is one of the most respected courses in the world, it is not a regular stop for the European Tour and hasn't been involved in any professional tourney since 2003. In other words, we have almost no history to utilize in analysis of this year's field, forcing emphasis to recent momentum spiced with a bit of speculation using results from links-style courses similar in lay.
As the third major of the season, we know the field is stacked with the top talents from all over the globe. We also know weather could be as influential this week as any other we'll see this season. Neither of those scenarios present fantasy owners with optimal conditions for prognostication, but we know it will be fun to watch it all go down. Recent British Open champions include David Duval, Ernie Els, Ben Curtis (an unknown rookie back in 2003 when he won on the same set of links serving as this year's host), Todd Hamilton, Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington, Stewart Cink, and Louis Oosthuizen.
Luke Donald [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #69
Many will be focused on the young man listed as our #2, newly-crowned US Open champ Rory McIlroy, and rightfully so. We suggest you take advantage of the situation by aiming for the man who is clearly worthy of praise as the best golfer of the year and, right now, the best golfer in the world. Donald comes off his third European Tour win at the Scottish Open, he's been amazingly consistent in his stops on the PGA Tour, and he has no problems throwing down on a course of this nature against a field this strong.
Rory McIlroy [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #3
He has captured the hopes and dreams of golf fans hoping for the next big thing and he deserves every bit of praise coming his way. He dominated at the US Open after several close calls in other majors, marking McIlroy as the clear and present danger for golf's veteran set. He cut his golf teeth on courses much like Royal St. George and it seems fair to expect he may be more comfortable this week then he was on the course he conquered for his first major title. If he goes off this week, his stock will skyrocket with casual fans and fantasy diehards alike.
Martin Kaymer [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #55
There is a definitive fall from those top two candidates for employment to the rest of the pack in terms of fantasy value, but Kaymer deserves to be near the center of your radar. He has struggled to compete with consistency but he has also showcased the same golf expertise that earned him rank as the top golfer in the world for a brief period early in the season. The Royal St. George is a course that should play to his strengths, we've seen enough over recent events to harbor hope, and it's fair to suggest Kaymer is just as potent and viable as any other candidate you might consider this week.
Lee Westwood [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #36
There is more than enough justification to place emphasis on European commodities this week as the unique nature of these links-style courses is as influential as any factor you might ponder. Westwood has as much value on a track of this nature as he's going to get from us at any other tourney on the calendar. Be warned he has struggled to maintain positive momentum, and that one trait may be as important as any other you consider this week. Still, on this track at this event, Westwood is a luxury for any roster.
Matt Kuchar [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #27
Forced to wager on any American in this week's field and there is no doubt where our chips will be found. Kuchar has earned the right to mentioned in the conversation when we talk about the best American golfers in the game, building an impressive resume as he continues to pile top finishes throughout the 2011 season. We worry he has yet to prove he can play on the links in the game's motherland but we know his momentum, his talent, and his focus are right where we want them for a major event.
Nick Watney [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #167
One of few from the American set looking to challenge Kuchar for title as the next best thing, Watney emerged victorious on the Tour just two weeks ago and appears to have his game in proper order for a run at a major title. We've seen him on the links-style courses of Europe before and he's done well. We certainly appreciate his momentum but his ability to adapt and attack the course could be his most potent asset this week.
Phil Mickelson [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #21
He's not having the year many of us would have anticipated but Mickelson is still one of the game's elite, he is still one of few with a proven track record of greatness in the majors, and he is still one of few worthy of top dollar based on his skill and ability to reverse fortune at a moments notice. He owns no semblance of momentum coming in but he's too good to be too bad for too long.
Charl Schwartzel [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #20
His name won't jump to mind for most fantasy owners as we approach the third major of the season but Schwartzel could and should be as tempting as any golfer in our top ten (not including, of course, the top two). He's playing top-shelf golf coming into Royal St. George, he clearly owns the confidence needed to win on such a powerful stage, and he knows how to score low on this style of course.
K.J. Choi [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #109
Choi is another name we rarely see near the middle of the radar when the four top tourneys of the season become reality, but as we sit today, he is one of few playing at a level that suggests he could compete with the top dogs. He's having an outstanding season, boasting a minimal number of missed cuts with more top-ten finishes than the bulk of the field at this event (a hefty statement). We struggle to envision him winning, but we also struggle to believe Choi won't compete.
Sergio Garcia [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #15
It seems hard to believe, after the last two campaigns, we would have any love for Sergio at any one of the majors. However, the British was once a regular place of greatness for Garcia and, in 2011, he's playing as if those goals should be the expectation. He's enjoyed a career rebound this year and we've enjoyed watching him rejoin the battle. With that confidence and his history at this event, it seems wise to give Sergio full consideration for your rosters this week.
Jason Day [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #1
Day may be having one of the best seasons on the Tour this year and few will argue with his talent. It's been a long journey to reach the world's top ten but he's accomplished that goal, leaving a major title as the next challenge to conquer. We warn fears of his lacking experience in links-style golf should be of undeniable concern as it may be too early to put such lofty expectations on his shoulders, but this season, there is no denying Day a place among the game's best.
One of the best-kept secrets in golf, Hanson is an absolute terror on the international scene who avoids the spotlight of the PGA Tour. He's filing top-ten finishes in Europe with regularity and he's doing so against top fields loaded with the world's best. On the Royal St. George we anticipate Hanson will be in the mix for a top finish and we wouldn't be shocked at all if he was battling for a win on Sunday.