This article is part of our FanDuel PGA series.
The Open Championship
Course: Royal St. George's (7,211 yards, par 70)
Winner: $2,070,000 and 600 FedExCup points
2020 was difficult for so many reasons, but the golf fan in me was devastated in the R&A's decision to cancel the 2020 Open Championship due to COVID-19. At that time pre-vaccine, it certainly would have been difficult logistically to pull off. That being said, the best in the world are set to gather a year later than expected in Sandwich, England and take on Royal St. George's in an Open for the first time since 2011 when Darren Clarke finally broke through at age 42 for his first major championship win. This will be the sixth and final major of this unprecedented "Super Season" of 2020-21. After this condensed schedule, it will also be the last time to be able to achieve major glory until next April at the Masters.
Who can forget the last Open Championship in 2019 at Royal Portrush that was won by Ireland's own Shane Lowry by six shots. The one good thing about the Open cancelling last season was that Lowry got to keep the Claret Jug for an extra year. If Lowry wants to leave Royal St. George's with the Jug his biggest competition is probably Jon Rahm, who is coming off his first major championship win at the U.S. Open and a strong showing a week ago at the Scottish Open. Dustin Johnson ended up just barely snagging the No. 1 spot in the OWGR back from Rahm going into the Open. The last time we went to Royal St. George's, DJ was very much in the hunt before hitting it out of bounds on the back-nine and settling for a T2. The Open Championship may very well be the most difficult major to win. It is so unlike any other regular PGA Tour event or major. The elements and grasses require you to be more creative on every single shot. It is part of the reason why it is the best and most interesting viewing experience of any tournament all year.
As more evidence as to the difficult of winning the Claret Jug, the only three players in the top-30 of the OWGR to have won it before are Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, and Jordan Spieth. Along with Rahm and Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson will also be trying to add a second major victory of the season. 2021 Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama will unfortunately not be able to attend due to a positive COVID-19 test. Two-time major champion's Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson are two other notables that will have to miss the 149th Open Championship due to COVID-19 issues. With Jon Rahm having won the U.S. Open last month, Xander Schauffele is now pretty easily the best player to have never hoisted a major championship trophy. The San Diego State product has played in three Open's with his best finish being a T2 back at Carnoustie in 2018. Patrick Cantlay, Tyrrell Hatton, Harris English, and Viktor Hovland are the only other players in the top-15 of the OWGR who have not yet tasted major glory. Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, and Patrick Reed are other top-ranked players looking to add a second major to their resume, while Brooks Koepka will be seeking major No. 5 after contending on Sunday at both the PGA Championship and U.S. Open this year.
The elements can be unpredictable in the Open Championship, but the forecast is looking promising at this point. After rain that will saturate the golf course through the practice rounds, it is expected to dry up during the four tournament rounds, which should see temperatures hover around 70 degrees and winds between 10-20 miles per hour. The winning score at Royal St. George's was 5-under-par in 2011 and 1-under-par in 2003. If this course is allowed to dry out and the winds start to kick up, we very well might not see anyone reach double digits under-par this week.
2020 - None
2019 – Shane Lowry (Royal Portrush)
2018 – Francesco Molinari (Carnoustie)
2017 – Jordan Spieth (Royal Birkdale)
2016 – Henrik Stenson (Royal Troon)
2015 – Zach Johnson (St. Andrews)
2014 – Rory McIlroy (Royal Liverpool)
2013 – Phil Mickelson (Muirfield)
2012 – Ernie Els (Royal Lytham & St Annes)
2011 – Darren Clarke (Royal St. George's)
2010 – Louis Oosthuizen (St. Andrews)
Key Stats to Victory
- SG: Approach
- SG: Putting
- GIR Percentage
Of all the courses in the Open Championship rotation, none may be more unpredictable and difficult than Royal St. George's. The fairways are fairly narrow to begin with, but are made even smaller with massive slopes that feed balls into the rough in both directions. You can get some really nasty bounces out there that can leave you in a much worse place than your shot deserved. That's something that mentally players will need to prepare themselves for. Well that, and the fact that you will never have an even lie at Royal St. George's. Creativity and being able to work the ball in all directions comfortably will be a massive advantage this week.
There are a number of deep pothole bunkers that are just waiting to inhale an errant shot. You have to get very lucky to be able to hit a fairway bunker shot on the green or a greenside bunker shot on line with the hole. In many cases you will see players just pitching out sideways to the fairway. It isn't an overly long course, so depending on the wind direction we will see all kinds of clubs hit off the tee to avoid certain fairway bunkers. Even if you get a bad kick off one of the slopes it will trickle into the first cut, which is extremely manageable. If you hit a foul ball, however, you're going to have your work cut out for you to escape the long fescue. Just ask Tiger Woods back in 2003, who infamously lost his first tee shot of the championship in the fescue and ended up making a triple-bogey.
The most important part of the game this week should be approach play. Since the 2003, two of the three lowest GIR percentages at the Open were at Royal St. George's. Just getting it in play off the tee should be the goal and avoiding bunkers. From there, you will have to deal with very uneven lies and cross winds to try to work the ball close to the holes. With greens likely being hard to hit, that will require very good short game work to be able to contend. The areas around the greens are mostly short grass, so that will reward the best scramblers. The putting surfaces in this part of the world are much slower than what players are used to in America, so that will be a big adjustment that players will have to concern themselves with during the practice rounds. Avoiding three putts on many of these massive greens may be a challenge.
FanDuel Value Picks
Jordan Spieth ($11,600)
Spieth is at his best when a golfer's creative mind has to take over. He's always played well at course like Augusta and Kapalua where the lies are very uneven and you can hit a bunch of different shots around the greens. That will certainly be required at Royal St. George's. Spieth has never missed a cut in seven starts at the Open along with his win at Royal Birkdale in 2017 and two other top-10's. The Texan has just one finish outside the top-30 in his last 13 starts.
Xander Schauffele ($11,500)
It may be Schauffele's time, as he is now the best player in the world to have never won a major. He has been so close with nine top-10's in just 17 career major starts. His best shot may have been back in 2018, when he held a share of the 54-hole lead at Carnoustie and fell just shy of Francesco Molinari. Schauffele ranks 11th in SG: Putting and 12th in SG: Tee-to-Green this season. He's got seven top-20 finishes in his last eight starts worldwide.
Louis Oosthuizen ($11,100)
The South African has had an incredible six runner-up finishes in majors since his first win at St. Andrews back in 2010. Two of those runner-ups were in the last two majors as well. This may very well be Oosthuizen best season on the PGA Tour. He ranks second in SG: Total and leads in SG: Putting. He also is 10th in SG: Around-the-Green and 14th in scrambling, two things that should be very important at Royal St. George's.
Patrick Reed ($10,600)
When GIR percentages are low, Reed's value spikes. He has one of the best short games in the world. Reed ranks 14th in SG: Around-the-Green and ninth in SG: Putting. Like Spieth, the 2018 Masters champ is another player that plays extremely well off uneven lies at courses like Augusta and Kapalua. Reed has finished T28 or better in four of his last five starts at the Open.
Longer Shots with Value
Abraham Ancer ($9,300)
Ancer has been one of the most consistent players all season on the PGA Tour. He has a total of 15 top-25 finishes in 22 starts. He is trending even more recently with four top-10's in his last six starts. Ancer is very balanced all the way through the bag, ranking top-30 in SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Approach, driving accuracy, GIR percentage, scrambling, and putts per GIR. His low-ball flight should be very effective in all these cross winds.
Harris English ($9,200)
This is an absurd price tag for the No. 12 ranked player in the OWGR coming off his second win of the season at the Travelers Championship. Sure he doesn't have a lot of history on links courses, but the talent and form is too good to pass up at this number. English finished solo third at the U.S. Open and has made 10 of his last 11 cuts. The former Georgia Bulldog 35th in SG: Around-the-Green, 22nd in SG: Putting, ninth in scrambling, and 20th in putts per GIR.
Alex Noren ($8,600)
Noren's low-ball flight has always been ideal for links style courses, which is part of the reason why he has five top-20 finishes in nine career starts in the Open, including going T6-T17-T11 in his last three. After a poor start to the season, Noren has now posted five top-25 finishes in his last eight starts. I said avoiding three-putts will be important to having a chance to contend this week, and no player on the PGA Tour has been better in that department than the Swede.
Lucas Herbert ($8,000)
Herbert is coming into the final major of the year in the best form you can. He went T18-T19 at the Memorial and the Travelers before going back overseas and winning the Irish Open and finishing T4 at the Scottish Open. Herbert is one of the longest drivers in the world and may be able to make use of that on a course with some forced carries. The Aussie is also third on the European Tour this season in both putts per GIR and putts per round.
Strategy Tips This Week
Based on a Standard $60K Salary Cap
With very consistent winds, holes facing in all different directions, uneven lies, blind tee shots, and penal bunkers, it really does feel like you want a creative scrambler. That would be someone who has played well on links style courses in the past or played well on courses with a lot of uneven lies. They are used to moving the ball in all directions and controlling trajectories. Then on top of that have extremely good touch around the greens. That kind of course just screams players like Spieth and Reed. A couple players I think you'd want to avoid are Dustin Johnson ($11,900) who is not playing well right now and has four finishes of T49-or-worse over his last five Opens, and Bryson DeChambeau ($11,300) who has struggled to adapt on links style courses and ones with a lot of uneven lies. Brooks Koepka $11,800 has been pretty good in his career at the Open and the last two majors, but he did make it clear that he did not like Royal St. George's, so that may just be something to keep in the back of your mind. Some players with solid value that have been very good in their careers at the Open to consider are Tony Finau ($10,200), Adam Scott ($9,600), and Lee Westwood ($9,600).