Open Championship 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
My lasting image of Royal St. George’s, site of this week’s Open Championship, is Thomas Bjorn in a greenside bunker. He was in there entirely too long on that sunny afternoon in 2011. By the time he escaped, his shot at the Claret Jug had drifted into the English Channel, washed away like so many golfers before and since.
Otherwise, Royal St. George’s is a beauty, featuring all the characteristics we expect from a classic links. It’s produced unexpected winners like Darren Clarke and Ben Curtis. Dominant players such as Greg Norman and Walter Hagen have also won in Sandwich.
The course is a 7,189-yard, par 70. The 13th through 15th can be the pivotal stretch. Trailing by two shots, Dustin Johnson jacked his second shot out of bounds on the 14th in 2011 and Clarke strolled to a popular victory.
Avoiding the bunkers is essential. They are truly penalties, as intended. It’s unlikely you’ll hear a competitor beg his ball into the treacherous sand, as so often happens in a regular PGA Tour event. The last two champions, Curtis and Clarke, were in only four greenside bunkers for the week, per Justin Ray.
Here’s a fact to consider when assembling your roster this week: In the last 10 Open Championships, 113 players finished in the top-10. Only 43 were Americans. Only twice in that span have Americans claimed at least half the spots in the top 10, although one of those occurred at Royal St. George’s in 2011 (6 of 11). Last time out, at Royal Portrush in 2019, only nine of the top 28 hailed from the U.S. Expect international flavor on the leaderboard, early and throughout the week.
Before we dive into expanded Power Rankings and an overflowing Bargain Bin, it’s worth noting the players not included in these rankings: Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott. A case could easily be made for or against any of them. Each has Open experience and a stout record on links. Pay attention to their tee times and the weather forecast. If the wind is expected to howl on Thursday and Friday, scoring will be difficult and their value increases.
As of late Monday night, the conditions for Thursday and Friday appear similar. Wind in the 15-20 mph range, remaining steady until late in the day, which could perhaps give the latest starters a slight edge. Again, don’t be afraid to wait as late as possible (the first ball is in the air at 1:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday) to finalize your roster.
We relied on SG: Total on links and coastal courses, courtesy of friend of the Power Rankings, @PGASplits101, a good source of information each week. Par-3 scoring will be critical here and driving, a combination of distance and accuracy, also received weight. The rough is long, wet and nasty. The greens are large; avoiding 3-putts is critical. Pars are often golden on the most difficult course in the Open rota over the last 20 years.
Links experience is important. Having a strong mental outlook is invaluable. There will be strange bounces and odd gusts of wind.
There are 50 first-timers in the 156-man field.
The Bargain Bin
- Lucas Glover, Justin Harding, Charley Hoffman, Matt Jones, Kevin Kisner, Ryan Palmer, Erik Van Rooyen
Wake early, start the coffee and enjoy the best golf tournament of the year. Because the entire field tees off the first hole, conditions can change significantly over the course of the first two rounds. So adding an extra option or two felt appropriate. Build a solid core to your team and take a few chances at the bottom. As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
27. Alex Noren – He’s finished sixth, 17th and 11th in the last three Opens and finished fourth two weeks ago at the Rocket Mortgage. He popped in all the models, in part because he’s second in the field in SG: Par 3s over the last 50 rounds.
26. Christiaan Bezuidenhout – Followed him for six or seven holes at the Masters in the spring and have been keeping a close eye on him ever since. Phenomenal around and on the greens. I’ve finally learned how to spell his first name correctly. Hasn’t missed a cut worldwide since the 2020 Scottish Open, a run of 20 tournaments.
25. Marc Leishman – Has an incredible short game and three top-6 Open finishes in the last six years. Gained 4.5 shots off the tee in a T-3 at the Travelers. Top-20 putter on slower greens and 13th in par-3 scoring. Struggles with the driver at times.
24. Ian Poulter – It’s a Ryder Cup year. He played terrific last week at the Scottish Open, closing with a 63 to tie for fourth. Has made the cut in 11 of his 18 Open appearances with a trio of top-10 finishes. Finished 26th in the Masters, 30th in the PGA and 40th in the U.S. Open.
23. Matt Fitzpatrick – Beats the field average in SG: OTT every week and rarely putts poorly. His irons have been less consistent, but he was dialed in last week, tying the low score for 72 holes in Scotland and losing in a playoff. Has made the cut in three of five Open starts and best finish is a T-20.
22. Abraham Ancer – Another player whose skill set is built for the majors. Last start was a hard-charging fourth in the Travelers. Strong wind player. Has missed the cut in his two previous Open starts, however, he’s a more accomplished golfer now.
21. Branden Grace – Will be a popular selection. Shot 62 in an Open Championship in 2017 to secure his lone top-10 in the Open Championship. More recently, finished fourth at Memorial and seventh in the U.S. Open. Top 30 in the field in SG: Putting and 3-putt avoidance on slower greens.
20. Rickie Fowler – He’s back. This time I mean it. For real. Don’t hold any grudges if you played him at the Travelers and he destroyed your chances by missing the cut. Focus instead on his outstanding record at the Open Championship – three top 10s and nine cuts made in 10 tries – and on links courses, in general.
19. Tyrrell Hatton – It’s high time Hatton starts to build his major resume. He missed the cut in the U.S. Open after finishing T-2 at Congaree the week prior and that’s been the norm. This is when he turns it around because he’s top 10 in the field in SG: Putting and 3-putt avoidance on slower greens.
18. Dustin Johnson – He has four top-12 finishes in the Open since 2011 – including a runner-up at Royal St. George’s in 2011 – but has also shot seven rounds of 75 or higher in that span. A close examination of his recent performance reveals he’s not far from regaining form. One area of his game, approach play one week, putting or chipping the next, has held him back. Could put it together at any moment.
17. Justin Thomas – His putting improves dramatically on slower greens. He can flight shots and drove it well in the Scottish Open last week. Has a T-11, T-53 and two MCs in four Open starts. Been a subpar season by his standards but his short game and creativity could serve him well at Royal St. George’s.
16. Louis Oosthuizen – It’s a major. He finished runner-up in the last two. He won The Open Championship and finished runner-up in 2015. He won’t sneak up on anybody this week and his putting stats are only average on slow greens but his record in the biggest events can’t be overlooked.
15. Paul Casey – Another reliable player in the major championships (fourth PGA, seventh U.S. Open). Top-20 in the field in extreme windy conditions and also in SG: Total over the last 24 rounds. Solid links record. Has made the cut in 12 of 17 Open appearances with a pair of top 10s.
14. Stewart Cink – The 2009 Open champion has won twice this year, is driving the ball long and straight and leads the PGA Tour in par-3 performance (14 under in 70 rounds). Has also finished in the top 25 in three of his last four attempts at golf’s oldest championship.
13. Joaquin Niemann – Feels like a good fit for the low-ball hitter, who let a great opportunity to win slip away at the Rocket Mortgage. Still, he played 72 bogey-free holes and is only 22 years old.
12. Cameron Smith – Has gotten progressively better at The Open, tying for 20th two years ago at Portrush. Excels on the par 3s and around the greens, gains almost a stroke per round in windy conditions.
11. Patrick Cantlay – Strong through the bag over the last month and it’s produced a victory at Memorial and a trio of top-25 results. Finished T-12 and T-41 in two Opens. Love that he’s sixth in the field in SG: Around-the-Green over the last 50 rounds.
10. Daniel Berger – The Florida native has a penetrating, low ball flight. Putting improves on slower greens and he’s 10th in the field in SG: Approach over the last 50 rounds. Has a T-27 and two MCs in three Open starts, which helps explain his low price. But he’s played the most consistent good golf of his career since the restart last year. Has three top 10s, including the U.S. Open, since winning at Pebble Beach.
9. Rory McIlroy – The game’s biggest enigma. Each time it feels like his game is trending upward (seventh in the U.S. Open), he backs it up with two lackluster efforts (T-59, MC) in Europe. Still ignore his Open Championship record at your own peril – three consecutive top 5s prior to his missed cut at Royal Portrush in 2019. I’m interested to see how aggressive he plays off the tee (second in driving distance, seventh in SG:OTT over last 50 rounds.)
8. Shane Lowry – The defending champion is built for links golf. Really like his numbers and would slot him higher if he wasn’t trying to reclaim the Claret Jug. He’s 24th in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green and 15th in SG: Around-the-Green over the last 50 rounds.
7. Scottie Scheffler – Just the sight of his beautiful stinger tee shot is enough to have faith in the Texan this week. Equally important, he’s enjoyed the major stage during his brief professional career, finishing seventh in the U.S. Open, eighth in the PGA and 18th in the Masters this year alone. Top-20 in SG: Total and Around the Green over the last 50 rounds.
6. Jon Rahm – Wasn’t sharp on the greens last week in Scotland and still had a chance. Slipped to No. 2 in the world but has the top spot within his grasp. Not a great record at The Open Championship – 11-MC-44-59 – in four starts, however, his confidence – and ownership – have never been higher.
5. Xander Schauffele – Could this be Xander’s time? Feels like it’s a question asked, with good reason, before each major. Finished runner-up to Molinari at Carnoustie. Has returned to putting conventional and it worked for him on the weekend at the Scottish Open, recording his sixth top-20 in the last seven starts. Has climbed to No. 5 in the world despite not winning since early 2019.
4. Viktor Hovland – Hard to believe he’s making his Open Championship debut. Sidelined by sand at Torrey Pines. Topped a strong field to win the BMW International last time out. The Norwegian Forest Cat won’t mind the wind or rain. He’s fourth in SG: OTT and 25th in SG: Approach over the last 50 rounds.
3. Patrick Reed – With his grit and short game, an Open Championship is within reach. He’s finished in the top 28 in four of six starts and missed the cut in the other two. Ballstriking, a weakness in the past at times, has never been more consistent. Loves the wind. Has gained strokes on approach and tee-to-green in the last four tournaments.
2. Jordan Spieth – In a year filled with impressive finishes, including the drought-breaking victory, the most impressive was his T-19 at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, a course he skips annually. In a week where he dug a hole early and didn’t have his best stuff, Spieth still gained 6.2 strokes tee-to-green and finished T-19. A lot can happen between Thursday and Sunday at an Open Championship, but it’s difficult to envision him not being in the mix.
1.Brooks Koepka – Has three top 10s in his last four Open appearances and has clearly been the best player in major championships over the last five years. Was surprised that his SG: Total in extremely windy conditions is mediocre (76th in field) but he’s been the best in the world on links and coastal courses since 2015.