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In Monday's edition of the “First Tee", I stated that the Old Course is not as visually appealing as Augusta National, or tricked up like Chambers bay. Well, I stand corrected. The Old Course is as green as you will ever see it, and playing conditions will be affected by the soft turf. Rain and high winds are expected on Friday, which means we get to enjoy The Open Championship in all its glory.
The trend in commentary this week has been that the Old Course sets up very well for the longer hitters. I agree, but it is not the Par 5's where the bombers have a distinct advantage, it is the short par 4's that set up eagle opportunities and easy birdies. There are three holes in particular that will constantly change the leaderboard as players navigate through, and they are the 9 th, 10th and 12th holes. All are driveable, however the flipside is that there is so much trouble on the way to the green, anything less than a perfect drive and you are looking at a tough par.
9th hole, Old Course at St. Andrews
th Hole, Old Course at St. Andrews
th Hole, Old Course at St. Andrews
As you can see, all three Par 4's are risk-reward holes that demand precise tee shots. I've taken a closer look at relevant statistics and picked out five players who I think will play these holes in (-2) or better, each round.
- 1) Bubba Watson: Driving Distance (7th), Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (5th), Scrambling (5th).
- His name has not shown up as a favorite to win, and that is mainly due to his penchant for hating on European golf courses. Let's face it though, when you are driving the ball long and straight, taking advantage of eagle and birdie opportunities, and consistently getting up and down, something has got to give. Bubba needs to embrace the quirkiness of the Old Course, and show off his Seve Ballesteros like creativity.
- 2) Henrick Stenson: Driving Accuracy (7th), Total Driving (2nd), Ball Striking (1st), GIR (1st)
- Stenson is my favorite to win the Open Championship. He has a diverse skillset, and is capable of adapting to the weather and taking what the course gives him. If he has a chance to drive a green, he will take it, but what separates him from the other players at the top is his course management. Stenson will avoid the big numbers on his way to his first major championship victory.
- 3) Keegan Bradley: Ball Striking (21st), Total Driving (3rd), GIR (61st)
- He has not had a great year, although he has been very consistent, making 16 of 18 cuts on the year. Bradley is a bulldog on the course, and loves the atmosphere of major championships. With a PGA Championship in his back pocket, I will not be surprised if he is among the top 10 players at the end of The Open.
- 4) Brooks Koepka: Driving Distance (10th) Strokes Gained Putting (9th) Eagles Per Hole (1st)
- Koepka is a guy I really like on this course. While many American players lack exposure to European/Links golf courses, Koepka cut his teeth on the European tour. He was the European Tour's Rookie of the Year, which is no small feat. Factor in his driving distance, a very streaky putter and the most eagles on tour, and you have a player who will lead the field in scoring on these short par 4's.
- 5) Bernd Wiesberger: Driving Distance (297.3 average) Strokes Gained Tee to Green (1.111)
Wiesberger is my sleeper pick of the week. While many American fans may not have heard of him, he has serious game and the pedigree of a winner, taking home two European Tour Titles this year. He is the 23 rd ranked player in the World, which should tell you something about how he holds up against the top players. Don't be surprised to see Wiesberger among the last four groups to go out on Sunday.
While distance off the tee is a huge advantage at the Old Course, there are a myriad of ways to navigate the course. Guys like Zach Johnson and Sergio Garcia should fare well. Johnson is a tactician with a wedge in his hand, and I fully expect him to carve up these holes by sticking to his game. Miguel Angel Jiminez (aka, The most Interesting Golfer in the World) is always fun to watch. He slaps the ball around, keeps it in the fairway and avoids the big numbers, a key to winning this week. I don't think he has the firepower to compete on this stretch of holes, but bad weather is always looming. The worse the weather gets, the more I favor the wily veterans who understand that par is a good score.
Regardless of the style of play, look for holes 9, 10 and 14 to be the difference in determining who wins, and who walks off in Dustin Johnson-ish style. Ouch, that still stings.
DraftKings is hosting their 3rd installment of the Millionaire Maker, awarding the 1st place finisher with a cool million bucks. What are you waiting for, jump in with both feet!
DraftKings Millionaire Maker Power Rankings
I use a point per dollar approach to my power rankings, factoring in scoring as well as their chances of winning, top 5 and top 10 finishes.
- 1) Henrick Stenson ($10,200) – I am a huge Jordan Speith fan, but Stenson comes in at $1800 less this week. With the soft pricing in the top tier, this is a week where I will be rounding out my stacks with Stenson as a main player.
- 2) Ricky Fowler ($9,700) – This is a gimee. Fowler is coming off a win at the Scottish Open, where he showed off his talent to get around links style golf courses. He is sneaky long, deadly with a short-wedge and very creative around the greens. Stenson/Fowler will be my favorite stack this week.
- 3) Phil Mickelson: ($9,600) - There is a big difference between weekly events and Major Championships. Phil has the formula to win majors, with one Open Championship already in his collection. He has every shot in his bag; every year I look forward to seeing what kind of “utility" club he brings to the Open Championship. With the wind expected to be heavy, look for Phil to break out the ol' 1 iron, bent to the loft of a 3 wood, with the shaft the length of a 5 iron.
- 4) Bubba Watson ($9,400) – Bubba is the most creative player on tour, so it will be a real treat if he plays inspires golf this week. No other course shows off creativity like the Old Course, and Bubba is too talented not to right the ship in the Open Championship. If he was $11,000+, I would most likely be calling for a fade. But at this price, how can you not throw him in a couple of lineups?
- 5) Bernd Wiesberger ($7,300) - I am a big fan of his game, and there is no better stage to break out on than the Open Championship. He is a solid driver of the golf ball, but his ball striking is what really makes him a good fit this week. Look for Wiesberger to be among the last three groups to go out on Sunday. At $7,300, he is giving you quite a bit of salary relief, while also providing the upside of a top 5 finish.