Picking a winner at the 2018 Open Championship is harder than ever. Nick Bonfield assesses the chances of the Open Championship favourites, from Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy - here's who to back and who to avoid...
Open Championship Favourites: Who to Back?
Picking a winner at this year’s Open Championship is even harder than usual. The game’s oldest Major hasn’t been staged at Carnoustie since 2007, and the number of golfers who now find themselves in the sport’s top tier has increased immeasurably since then. What’s more, most of the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking come into the tournament in good form, and given the strength of the global game, you’d have to say at least 100 players are in with a chance of hoisting the Claret Jug.
Still, this article is about the favourites. So, within that group, who are the must-backs, and who should you steer clear of?
Dustin Johnson – 11/1
World No.1 Dustin Johnson simply cannot be ignored in any tournament, especially when you consider recent form, statistics and his Open record. While his final-round performance at Shinnecock Hills – where he was outplayed by Brooks Koepka – was mildly concerning, he’s finished eighth, first and third in his last three starts.
His stats on the PGA Tour this season are also hugely impressive. He leads the Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee, Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green and Strokes Gained: Total categories and ranks 17th in Strokes Gained: Putting. He’s registered three top-ten finishes in his Open career – including a second at St Georges in 2011 – and he typically plays well on tough golf courses. They don’t come much tougher than Carnoustie.
GM rating: 9/10
Rory McIlroy – 12/1
We all know how gifted a player McIlroy is, and that he won The Open in 2014, but I don’t understand why he’s so short-priced with the bookmakers. We haven’t seen the Irishman hit top gear since the Arnold Palmer in March – you could argue April at The Masters, but his final-round performance was poor – and he seems to be drifting through tournaments at the moment, cutting a frustrated figure much of the time.
If you’re looking for positives, he hit the ball as well as he has done all season in the opening round of the Irish Open. However, he once again failed to find any semblance of form with the flat-stick, and this is my major concern. Of course, he could find a spark on the greens at any time and reverse his recent fortunes, but I just can’t justify backing McIlroy at his current price.
GM rating: 6/10
Jordan Spieth – 14/1
Jordan Spieth should feature on any list of Open Championship contenders irrespective of form, given his love of the big occasion, his ability to get the ball in the hole, his battling qualities (which will come to the fore at Carnoustie) and the quality of his all-round game.
Carnoustie is a course that demands pragmatism and good strategy – something him and his caddie, Michael Greller, have in abundance. He’s also one of the finest putters in the game (I know, he’s not having a good season statistically, but we know how good he can be) and deadly from mid-range, which will be particularly useful on Carnoustie’s relatively flat greens. A title defence would surprise no one.
GM rating: 9/10
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Rickie Fowler – 18/1
Many people feel it’s a matter of time before Rickie Fowler gets over the line in a Major Championship, and while too many variables come into play in golf to make any assurances, I do think he’ll win at least one before the end of his career.
In my mind, the American has been ready to win one of golf’s big four since finishing inside the top five in every Major in 2014. His record since Royal Liverpool isn’t overly inspiring, but anyone who watched him battle the elements at Royal St George’s in 2011 knows he has the tools to win.
GM rating: 8/10
Tommy Fleetwood – 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood has undoubtedly elevated himself to top-tier status over the last 18 months or so, and he played some glorious golf en route to a second-place finish at the US Open last month, but in my mind there’s no way he should be shorter-priced than the likes of Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas.
I know he shot the course record at Carnoustie last year, but I think people are reading a little too much into that – it could just have been one of those wonderful days where everything comes together and it certainly doesn’t preclude him for bad rounds in the future. Still, it’s clearly relevant and a tick in his favour, but I think you can find much better value around the 20/1 mark.
GM rating: 6/10
Sergio Garcia – 25/1
Sergio Garcia hasn’t been at his best over the last couple of months, but his last two performances – a tie for 12th at the BMW International Open and a tie for 8th at the French Open – suggest he’s not far away. In addition, only a cruel twist of fate deprived him of the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in 2007 and his Open Championship record in sensational – he’s recorded five top-five finishes and another five top-tens.
GM rating: 8/10