The Old Course at St. Andrews, (or, more formally, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews) is hosting the 144th Open Championship (and 29th on this course), teeing off at 1:32 am EST Thursday morning (get your lineups set Wednesday!). Every great golfer in the world shows up for this one, which suppresses some prices but gives you so many options at every price range it can make your head spin. Here are some names to help you start to narrow down your choices. Good luck.
Jordan Spieth ($12,000) – There are a lot of theories about what makes a successful links golfer. A very common one is that you need to control your irons, particularly on your approaches and stay out of those pot bunkers. But another might be to fly those bunkers in the first place. Sure, the ability to control the ball in the wind, or shape a shot in either direction, might be a prerequisite, but there is more than one way to accomplish to accomplish either of those things, too. The players who perform the best at the biggest tournaments are the players with the best feel or their own games, the best control of their own style of shot-making – and it’s not possible to say anyone else is more in control right now than Jordan Speith.
Dustin Johnson ($11,400) – As much as there is no one way to win an Open Championship, there is no denying that practice seems to help. There were six Americans in the top-30 last year. There were eleven in 2013 and eight in 2012. In other words, it’s mostly Europeans. But DJ could do to this course what Tiger did in his wins if he drives it like he did at Chambers Bay.
Henrik Stenson ($10,200) – It seems like everyone is going to be surprised – shocked even – if Stenson finally breaks through with a major win. But that really shouldn’t be the case. I wish it wasn’t the case. He’s just so solid, but he is not boring. He is the picture of consistency and upside. He might not have won a major, but he was T3 at St. Andrews in 2010 and he finished 2nd at Muirfield two years ago – and in a field like this, top five certainly qualifies as upside.
Rickie Fowler ($9,700) – Last year, he finished T8 at the Scottish Open and then followed it up with a T2 at the Open Championship. This year, he won the Scottish Open, so it follows, then, mathematically…no, just kidding. What it shows is that he entered the British Open playing really well last year, and finished well. He’s entering it playing really well again this year. It doesn’t mean he’s going to win, but it would be a surprise if he ended up really killing your roster.
Paul Casey ($9,200) – Yes, he played well here in 2010 (T3). But he is also playing well right now, starting with a T6 at the Masters, straight through a snd place finish at the Travellers’ just a few weeks ago.
Tiger Woods ($8,600) – He’s got just about the best history you could have in this event, with three Open Championships, including two of them at St. Andrews (2000 and 2005). He’s probably not going to win, but there is something to be said for knowing your way around a course like St. Andrews. Tiger is quickly (or slowly) entering the wily old vet stage of his career, which is jarring sometimes, but I bet it proves plenty entertaining now and again over the next decade or so, too.
Branden Grace ($8,100) – With three rounds under par, he finished T17 last weekend at the Scottish Open, and T4 at a U.S. Open that certainly looked like it was being played on a links course (even if the challenges were somewhat unique at Chambers Bay).
Shane Lowry ($8,100) – He finished T9 at the U.S. Open. He finished T9 last year at the British. He ended up T31 last weekend after opening up 66-66. Hailing from Ireland, he is exactly the kind of European Tour player fans of the PGA might not know well, but who is just one of those names sitting there in the top-20 at the end of the weekend, making you look smart.
Charl Schwartzel ($7,900) – His last appearance was at the U.S. Open, where he ended up 7th after a final-round 66. And that course was not easy. He definitely still has the game, and he seems to have a knack for contending on the biggest stages and against the stiffest competition. This weekend counts. He has been making a lot of cuts by avoiding mistakes, which you have to love for this price, especially when you are getting a guy you know has upside lurking.
Luke Donald ($7,700) – Another Englishman who qualified for the Open Championship only with his top-10 performance at the Travellers’ a few weeks ago, we should all be thankful that he isn’t “just” European – he’s also playing well right now, or seems to be. The last time he played in an Open Championship was 2009, and he finished T5. He played the tournament here at St. Andrews once, in 2005, and made the cut en route to 52nd place. Not exactly what you think of when you picture some European advantage at this tournament.
Victor Dubuisson ($7,500) – One good way to find a guy who’s good on a particular course is to ask yourself “who has played the best round of golf here, ever?” Yes, Dubuisson co-owns the course record (a 62 he shot in 2012).
Francisco Molinari ($7,500) – I am not 100% why he is so inexpensive. He hasn’t missed a cut since March, and dating back to the Open de Espana at the beginning of May, he has finished T6 or better four times. He spends plenty of time at both European Tour and PGA Tour events, and has shown an ability to compete with even the best fields (T27 at Chambers Bay and a 5th at the BMW PGA Championship).
Tommy Fleetwood ($7,300) – For those PGA Tour fans who have never heard of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, it is a European Tour event that attracts all of the biggest names in Europe every October for a tournament that includes three famous links courses, including St. Andrews. Fleetwood finished second at it last year, tied at -16 with another European golfer you may have heard of, Rory McIlroy. That was Fleetwood’s third top-5 in the event. Not bad for a 24-year-old.