Royal Birkdale Golf Course is the site of the 146th Open Championship next week, and the year’s third major feels about as wide open as ever.
The oddsmakers’ favorites, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, certainly haven’t inspired much confidence over the last month, the middle tier continues to grow, and sleepers can be found all throughout the field.
The growing depth makes it difficult to narrow it down to 10 contenders, but here’s an early look at my power rankings:
1. Dustin Johnson
The US Open marked the second missed cut in a row for DJ, something that previously hadn’t happened to him since April 2014 (withdraw at the Shell, missed cut at the Masters). Perhaps it’s a sign that there’s something wrong with his game, but considering everything he’s done this seas–and actually, everything he’s done over the past 12 months–it’s tough to read too much into two poor performances.
He’s still No. 1 in the world. He still has a Top 10 in 50 percent of his starts this season. He still leads the Tour in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained total.
And he’s still my favorite.
2. Sergio Garcia
Since capturing his first career major and Green Jacket, Garcia has played five tournaments. He’s finished at inside the Top 30 in all of them, including a T21 at the US Open and a runner-up finish in his last start at the BMW International Open.
Take some notes, Danny Willett. This is how you handle the Masters Hangover.
Not only is he playing the best golf of his career, ranked second on Tour in strokes gained off the tee and third in strokes gained tee to green, but he comes in with a whopping 10 career Top-10’s at the Open, including three Top-6’s in a row. The elite ball striker is made for links golf, and he belongs with the upper-tier of favorites.
3. Jordan Spieth
After missing two cuts in a row in May, Spieth responded with a runner-up finish at the Dean & Deluca, a T13 at the Meorial, a solid-but-unspectacular T35 at the US Open and thrilling win at the Travelers capped with an unbelievable chip-in from the bunker:
Driving accuracy will be crucial at Royal Birkdale, and Spieth has hit 60 percent or more of his fairways in three tournaments in a row for the first time in more than a year. Throw in his almost always locked-in mid-range game, and he should be right in the mix all week.
4. Rickie Fowler
You won’t find many people on the planet playing better than Fowler, who has three Top-5 finishes in his last four starts. That includes a T5 at the US Open, where he opened with a blistering 65 but couldn’t quite hold on for the first major of his career.
His game is clicking at every level–32nd in driving distance, eighth in strokes gained approaching the green, 10th in strokes gained tee to green and fourth in strokes gained putting–and links-style golf clearly suits him. He just performed extremely well at the American links-style Erin Hills, he’s won before in Scotland and he has three Top 15’s at previous Open Championships.
5. Rory McIlroy
He comes in with shaky form, having missed the cut at the US Open and then again at the Irish Open last week.
Nevertheless, his talent level is too high to deny him at least a spot on this list–when his game is on, he’s better than anyone in the world tee-to-green, meaning he has the ability to pop at anytime. If he could just find some consistency, there’s no question he has what it takes to capture a second Open Championship.
6. Hideki Matsuyama
Matsuyama finished second at the US Open in what was obviously a fantastic showing, but it was also his first Top 10 since winning the Waste Management Open back in early February. So, which one shows up this weekend?
Encouragingly, a 14th-place finish at the Irish Open suggests he’s closer to US Open form than pre-US Open form. Moreover, the World No. 2 has consistently performed well when taking on strong fields this year: first and 25th at the individual World Golf Championships (not counting the Match Play), second at the Tournament of Champions, 11th at the Masters, 22nd at the Players and the aforementioned runner-up at the US Open. There’s no reason to believe he can’t keep it up at Birkdale, where his ball striking and tee-to-green game will be rewarded.
7. Jon Rahm
For most of the season, we’ve seen the highs of Rahm, the transcendent rookie who took the PGA Tour by storm and capture one win and seven Top-10’s in between January and May. At the US Open, we saw the lows, as he played poorly, lost his temper on multiple occasions and missed the cut.
The allure of Rahm seemed to wear off at Erin Hills, but he brought it back in a heartbeat last week at the Irish Open, firing a blistering 24-under to beat the field by six strokes. It was a clear reminder of his spectacular talent, and though he lacks Open Championship experience (59th in his debut last year), that hasn’t slowed him down much before.
8. Tommy Fleetwood
After finishing fourth at the US Open, Fleetwood returned to Europe and continued his red-hot form with finishes of sixth (BMW International Open), first (HNA Open de France) and 10th (Irish Open).
Seemingly unable to do anything wrong at the moment, the 26-year-old Englishman now heads to Birkdale, his home-town course. Sometimes the narrative of home-town courses can be overplayed, but this is seems to be the perfect storm of red-hot form and comfort level.
Fleetwood is no longer sneaking up on anyone, but that won’t matter if he plays like he has been the last month.
9. Paul Casey
A rough weekend at Erin Hills took Casey from contention to 26th at the US Open, but it didn’t seem to affect him too much. He followed it up with a T5 at the Travelers, giving him four Top-12 finishes in his last six starts.
Though he hasn’t played well at the Open lately, the Englishman carries his recent red-hot form to Birkdale, where he finished tied for seventh in 2008.
10. Adam Scott
We haven’t seen Scott since he missed the cut at the US Open, so he doesn’t have recent form working in his favor. He does, however, have an excellent track record at the Open Championship, having finished inside the Top 10 in four of the last five years, as well as 16th the last time it was held at Birkdale back in 2008.
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