The 146th Open Championship is two days away from tee off and, as ever, the talk is all about the favourites and who will come out on top.
Here’s a look at five of The Caddy’s Review’s picks including some big name favourites and some less thought of.
The ascent of Jon Rahm is self-evident. Ranked 137th in the world at the end of January, in the past six months the Spaniard has won both his first PGA and European Tour events, as well as two top threes at WGC events, and has risen to world-number-seven.
Rahm broke his career deadlock at the Farmers Insurance Open and since then his form can only be topped by world-number-one Dustin Johnson. The 23-year-old has racked up nine top 10s and seven top fives in 14 starts since – and including – his win at Torrey Pines.
In his last start, Rahm waltzed to a six-shot victory at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. Strolling to victory in just his second regular European Tour start shows the versatility of his game and his ability to adapt to new conditions. Most poignantly, the win came in only his second taste of British Links golf. His aptitude in tough, seaside conditions can only be a positive heading to Royal Birkdale.
Rahm has got Open Championship experience already. He finished tied 59th at Royal Troon last year but had only just turned professional two events before and was still adjusting to life outside amateur status.
Given his current electric form, anything outside the top 10 would be out of the norm for Rahm right now. Throughout his short career he’s proven his ability to cope with changing surroundings and mounting pressure and most recently an ability to brush off an entire field on a British links course.
I can’t see anything other than a successful week for the young European.
The past season has been by far the most prolific of Fleetwood’s career. A superb run including two wins has put him atop the European Tour’s Race to Dubai rankings by almost 1,000,000 points. The past 18 starts have seen 10 top 10s, six tops fives and two wins, at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the HNA Open de France just three weeks ago.
As a European Tour loyalist, the only question hovering over Fleetwood’s head still was his ability to compete when the world’s best were around. However, with a runner-up finish to Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico Championship and a fourth at the US Open last month he has put a rest to that myth.
Fleetwood has played in every Open since 2014 and has missed the cut at every attempt. His form last year included four missed cuts and two finishes in the 60s in the six events prior and the previous two years the form read similar; he’s never entered an Open Championship in a vein of form remotely this rich.
His fourth place finish at Erin Hills last month was by far his best in a major and he’s since broken into the world top 20 as his career is really beginning to hit new heights. The biggest factor pointing in Fleetwood’s favour this week is that Royal Birkdale is the Englishman’s local course. Born in Southport, he was raised near the famous course and grew up learning to play the game on the English north-west coast.
With form, experience and the added bonus of local support on his side, Fleetwood stands a great chance to break the major deadlock this week.
Zach Johnson is one of few players to publicly express his confidence coming into The Open this week. The American has gone as far as to say that he feels his game is “suited” to British links golf and that he enjoys the reward of good quality golf shots.
It would be hard to argue with the 41-year-old’s confidence given that he won this event just two years ago at St. Andrews, and has two other top 10s and another two top 20s to boast from just 13 starts at the British major.
Experience can easily prove to be the deciding factor when it comes to major championships and Johnson has a green jacket from 2007 to go with his claret jug as well as 13 other career wins. You know where your money would be if it’s a two-horse race between him and a debutant on Sunday evening.
He was without a top 10 since March, however finishing tied fifth at the John Deere Classic at the weekend could prove to be a perfectly-timed return to form for Johnson.
It’s not much of an audacious pick as SkyBet make Rickie Fowler joint-favourite in Southport this week, but he’s every right to be considered a favourite. It would not cause too much controversy to suggest he is the current best player in world golf to have never won a major title. This season, however, has seen the American come closer than ever. He stayed in contention all week at the Masters before slipping to tied 11th with a final round 76 and led the US Open after the opening round before again failing to materialise his challenge and finishing tied fifth.
He’s already racked up one win this season, at the Honda Classic in February, and has since finished outside the top 20 just twice in 11 starts. Of those nine top 20s, six have been top 10s and his last three starts read tied ninth, tied third and tied fifth.
Adding to Fowler’s chances this week is his experience in Open Championships. The 28-year-old has played in the event seven times and has managed high finishes of tied 14th (2010), tied fifth (2011) and joint runner-up (2014). His win at the 2015 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open further proves his capabilities against links golf in the UK.
With so many of the game’s biggest names currently firing blank – now might be Fowler’s best chance to end the painful wait for his maiden major title.
Daniel Berger has little major experience and even less Open experience. However, with a form card reading as nicely as his currently does, he’s impossible to ignore.
In his one appearance at The Open in 2015 Berger missed the cut. He had, though, missed three of five cuts going into it. This time around Berger’s form reads tied fifth, second, missed cut, first. He defended his FedEx St. Jude Classic title before fluffing his lines at the US Open, but then bounced back to only be denied another title at the Travelers Championship by Jordan Spieth’s holed-out bunker shot in a play-off. He then fired a third-round 63 to contend at the John Deere Classic at the weekend.
Berger may be far from the most talented, and the most experienced, golfer in the field this week. But his form and ability to contend week-in-week-out at the moment is undeniable.
Golf is one of, if not the hardest, sports to predict. But the five players mentioned above have all shown signs over their careers and in recent form that they have what it takes to conquer the field at Royal Birkdale.