PGA Breakdown: 2017 Open Championship – Royal Birkdale (7/20/17)


The Open Championship: The third major and one of the most entertaining tournaments of the year, as long as you can make the time difference work. Lineups will lock Thursday at 1:35AM EST (aka Wednesday night) so keep that in mind. The tournament will be taking place at Royal Birkdale in England, a links course that will favor the guys that can keep the ball in play, scramble, make birdies, and avoid major mistakes. With this in mind, the stats I chose to start with were: Driving accuracy, bogey avoidance, birdies gained, strokes gained tee-to-green, and total strokes gained (all stats spanning over the past 12 weeks). To account for the links-style play/course, I looked at last week’s Scottish Open along with the past two British Opens in hopes of zeroing in on just how well these guys are able perform in similar links-like conditions as well as the obvious high-intensity/high-pressure major-style golf.

The Vegas favorites of DJ, McIlroy, Spieth, and Masters-champ Sergio top the salary charts on DK and FD, but a ton of value is down below. Some people say this is the hardest major to predict an outcome, making it all the more fun to crunch the numbers and try to find the real value picks.

Interesting fact that I thought was worth mentioning: since 2007, only two British Open champs were under the age of 32: McIlroy – 25 and Oosthuizen – 27. Even crazier, 32% of British Open winners in the past 25 years have been 38+ years old. Last time the British Open was held at Royal Birkdale (2008), the then 53 year old “Shark” Greg Norman had a 2-stroke lead going into Sunday. In trying to make sense of this trend, what I could come up with was:

  1. Experience means more than you could imagine in dealing with all that comes with competing in a major championship.
  2. The tight, not-so-long, windy conditions at these European links style courses play well to a more controlled ball flight (less worried about ripping drives 350+ like some of the younger guys…)
  3. The ability to stay focused and recover when things get weird. These courses will throw the occasional backward pot-bunker shot, or chip out from the fescue, etc. We have all seen meltdowns happen (Spieth in Augusta last year comes to mind), and guys with a bit more experience and maybe even a little less on the line are more apt to handle these situations with level-headed manner in comparison to the average youngster with something to prove.

With that said, I do realize this is only true for 8 of the last 10 years and 32% of the last 25 years, so I am not counting out or looking past the young-guns who have been doing big things lately. But it is worth thinking about when building those lines.

As I alluded to earlier, the field is stacked, as to be expected. Here are some notable guys whose recent performance has put them in the top of the stats that I found to be most important for this week – remember, the stats noted in this article are for the past 12 weeks. Starting with favorites, touching on some mid-range standouts, and last but not least, the value picks, my hope here is to help narrow this field down and give you something to think about while building those lineups.

Studs – (top dollar options):

Rickie Fowler: Well, for starters…Fowler is actually not a “top dollar” option here, and that makes him very enticing this week. One thing that can’t be denied is that Rickie is due to for a major. Over the span of his short career, he has had multiple top 5 major finishes in addition to his 7 PGA tour wins. He played consistent golf in last week’s Scottish Open, really only being held back by his 3rd round 74, and finished in 9th.

071016-rickiefowler-piIn regard to the stats looked at this week, Fowler sits in 21st in total strokes gained, 15 in good drives gained, 6th in birdies gained, and 8th in bogey avoidance (over the past 12 weeks), in addition to standing at 10th in the overall world golf rankings. He has finished top-10 in each of his past 3 starts, totaling 8 top-10s for the season, making 13 cuts in 15 starts. That is a very solid cut % and even more impressive, finishing top-10 in 53% of his starts in 2017. It’s hard for me to believe we won’t be seeing Rickie in the mix this Sunday.

Jordan Spieth: Finishing in 4th in the 2015 British Open, 30th in 2016, and coming off a win in the Travelers in late June, Spieth is a viable option to get back on the major train. He has a ridiculously good start to the season finishing top 10 in his first 5 events, and then things went a little awry. From March to May Spieth did not perform how we are used to him performing. With that said, he has only missed three cuts this year and has 7 top 10’s. Stat wise, he remains on top. Using the metrics stated earlier, he is 1st in total strokes gained, 4th in strokes gained tee-to-green, 20th in good drives gained, 1st in birdies gained, and sits in 3rd in the overall world golf rankings. This year has seemed to be hit-or-miss with him, but if your setting multiple lines, it may be hard to fade him completely.

Henrik Stenson: The defending British Open champion looks good coming into this week. He finished in 26th last week at the Scottish Open and is clearly a proven golfer with the ability to score on a links course. Similar to Fowler, he had a rough Saturday last week that kept him out of the top of the field. He sits in 11th in good drives gained (one of  the more important stats this week), 17th in birdies gained, 36th in bogey avoidance, and 8th in the overall world rankings. He had a rough patch this year, missing a couple cuts in March and April (including a poor Masters outing) but has appeared to pull it together in his past couple starts. When Stenson is playing well it is hard to stop him. He is affordably priced this week and has a real chance of putting a back-to-back in the books.

Sergio Garcia: Coming off of his first major victory followed by 5 top-30’s including 2nd place in the BMW International in late June, it’s safe to say Sergio is back (was he ever really gone though?). He has been somewhat selective in his entries this year, but hasn’t missed a cut in his 10 starts. Adding to the hype here, he finished 5th in the 2016 Open Championship and 6th in the 2015 Open Championship. He is 20th in total strokes gained, 11th in strokes gained tee-to-green, 7th in good drives gained, 14th in birdies gained, and 5th in the world rankings. His past major shakiness and having been known to be a bit of a choker makes it  risky in a way, but if this year’s performance (in addition to British Open performance) is any measure of things to come, I would consider him a good bet to be more than just in the mix…….oh yeah, and he’s 37 years old…….

Mid-Range Options:

Genesis Open - Round One

Matt Kuchar: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Kuchar is the most underpriced player in this week’s field. He’s coming off of a stellar Scottish Open 4th place performance and has looked rock solid in his past 5 starts. He finished 16th in the US Open, 4th in the Masters, and is showing up all over these stat lines. He is currently sitting in 3rd total strokes gained, 2nd in stokes gained tee-to-green, 3rd in good drives gained, 2nd in bogey avoidance, and 18th in the world rankings. All things considered, Kucher is a bargain and has a real shot at taking this one home….oh yea and he’s 39 years old….


Phil Mickelson: Word on the street is he will be putting the driver away this week. Interesting. Phil is always an option in my book. He is a cut-making machine and has more experience than 95% of the field. He finished 2nd in last year’s British Open and can realistically win just about any tournament at any given time. His salary is reasonable, especially considering some of these stats: 14th in total strokes gained, 7th in strokes gained tee-to-green, 2nd in birdies gained, and a modest 26th in the world golf rankings. At the young age of 47 he has 42 PGA tour wins including 5 majors. Never count Phil out. 

Ian Poulter: I am going to keep my personal opinions of the guy out of this one and say that his recent stats are hard to ignore. He’s made 15 cuts in 17 starts, came in 9th in last week’s Scottish Open, 2nd in the Players Championship in May, with a couple other impressive finishes mixed in. For the past 12 weeks he is in 12th in total strokes gained, 1st in strokes gained tee-to-green, 1st in good drives gained, and 4th in bogey avoidance. The man has some experience with this type of golf and has much of a rough patch as he’s had, you can’t count him out.

Rafael Cabrera Bello: I’d put him in the value/sleeper section, but coming off a win at the Scottish Open he may be chalky considering his extremely low salary.  In 19 starts he has made 14 cuts and has 6 top-10s including 4th the the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June and 4th in the Players Championship. He sits in 22nd in total strokes gained for the last 12 weeks, 28th in birdies gained, 34th in bogey avoidance, and 17th in the world golf rankings. He has performed OK in past British Opens, but I think he’s experienced enough and clearly on top of his game/playing well enough to consider rostering him, especially at such a cheap price.

Hideki Matsuyama: This man is seemingly always in the mix. He’s made 12 cuts in 13 starts, came in 2nd in the US Open, 11th in the Masters, and has 4 top-10s on the season. For 12-week stats, he comes in at 22nd for strokes gained tee-to-green, 24th in bogey avoidance, and 36th in good drives gained. He also came in 18th in the 2015 British Open. It is clear that he performs in big tournaments and has been successful as of late.

Potential Value/Sleepers:

Andy Sullivan: Finishing in 9th in the Scottish Open, 12th in last years British Open, 30th the year before, and coming off a streak of top 20 finishes, he is very much in play. He has made 11 cuts in 13 starts with two top-10s. Some notable 12-week stats include 33rd in total strokes gained, 16th in birdies gained, and 40th in strokes gained tee-to-green.

Francesco Molinari: He has had a very good year but has been relatively inconsistent as of late. He has made 12 cuts in 14 starts and is coming off a couple weeks rest. Notable finishes include 2nd in the BMW Championship in May, 6th in the Players Championship, and 7th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He comes in at 3rd in stokes gained tee-to-green, 8th in total strokes gained, 13th in good drives gained, and 5th in birdies gained. Pretty impressive.

Jason Dufner: Another guy I don’t like ignoring. If Duf Daddy brings home another major I don’t want to be the guy who didn’t put him in any lineups. Very affordable, has 11 made cuts in 15 starts, got his only win of the season in June, and has had a couple rough outings since. He came in 22nd in last years British Open and comes in at 17th in total strokes gained, 13th in strokes gained tee-to-green, 21st in good drives gained, and 25th in birdies gained.

Paul Casey: He has made 12 cuts in 13 starts. Basically, if he’s playing, he’s in the mix. He has three top 10s this year, came in 5th in the Travelers Championship, 26th in the US Open, 22nd in the Players, 6th in the Masters, among multiple other top 30 finishes. For the past 12 weeks he comes in at 9th in total strokes gained, 9th in strokes gained tee-to-green, 17th in good drives gained, 20th in birdies gained, and 28th in bogey avoidance.

tommy-fleetwood-1003578Tommy Fleetwood: Not quite a value pick but I couldn’t write this whole article without mentioning him. Fleetwood is seemingly unstoppable at the moment with 4 top-10s in a row and 9 top-10s on the season. He won the HNA Open de France last month and has been extremely consistent as of late. He is one of the most talked about players heading into this week having grown up in the area and shared his stories about sneaking out onto Royal Birkdale as a kid with his Dad. Now if that isn’t narrative street I don’t know what is. I don’t personally know much about him but he strikes me as a man of the people who could be known as the peoples champion come this Sunday – another one I will have a hard time not including in a lineup somewhere.

Others to keep an eye on: Adam Scott, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman, Shane Lowery, Webb Simpson, John Rahm, and DJ & Rory of course.

Good luck & let’s make some cash!



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