How to pick a winner at an unfamiliar Open venue

Can Jon Rahm bring home the Claret Jug? (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Can Jon Rahm bring home the Claret Jug? (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

People have been betting on the Open Championship for a century and a half, but there’s never been a gambling challenge quite like this: the first tournament in two years, on a course that hasn’t seen an Open in 10 years.

Royal St. George’s, in southeast England, is a lovely but undistinguished stretch of dunes and bunkers, a course that doesn’t exactly boast the finest pedigree of winners. Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player … none of them won an Open at Royal St. George’s. Instead, winners include Darren Clarke, Ben Curtis, Bill Rogers, Reg Whitcombe … fine gentlemen, yes, but not quite among the golf immortals.

What does that mean for bettors? Well, proceed with caution. Both Clarke and Curtis, the two most recent winners, were triple-digit odds to win going into the tournament. Anyone who’s watched more than a single day of The Open also knows the mystery of the draw: since the weather can change dramatically during the day, players teeing off in the morning can see a vastly different course than their colleagues playing in the afternoon.

With all that in mind, let’s run through some possibilities and probabilities, with all lines via BetMGM:

The favorites

Jon Rahm (+750): The defending U.S. Open champion has a game that’s exceptionally well suited for … everywhere. In addition to his obvious affinity for the PGA Tour’s slate, he’s played well on links courses, winning the 2017 and 2019 Irish Opens. The favorite by a wide margin, and with good reason.

Rory McIlroy (+2000): There’s a school of thought out there that says any time you see Rory at anything over +1200, you throw your money at him. And the fact that he’s gone 1-5-4-2 at four of his last five majors is tempting. But he’s also gone seven years without winning a major. So there’s a whole lot of data to support whichever conclusion you wish.

Bryson DeChambeau (+3000): I mean, if you’re that interested in burning money, you can just set it on fire. DeChambeau’s game isn’t set up for links golf, and he’s an organizational mess right now, switching caddies just before one of the season’s biggest tournaments. Not an ideal situation for a guy who relies on consistency.

Brooks Koepka (+1400): Koepka’s been sneaky good at Open Championships, with three top-10 finishes in his last four outings. He’s also rounding into form after injury, and he gears up for majors like no one else on the planet.

Xander Schauffele (+1600): Now that Rahm’s won his major, Xander’s carrying the Best Never To Win mantle. It could happen this week; he’s coming off two straight T10 finishes, and he’s always strong at majors, with eight top 10s since 2018 including a T2 finish at The Open in 2018.

The notables

Phil Mickelson (+8000): It couldn’t happen twice in one year, could it? Mickelson may have used up the last of his golf goodwill at Kiawah in May, but then again it’s always possible he discovered something in himself to stay in the mix at Royal St. George’s. The last time he was here, he finished T2 behind Clarke, and used the lessons he learned from that to win two years later.

Lee Westwood (+5000): It’s time. Westy has spent decades on the outside looking in at majors, and after Mickelson’s PGA — not to mention the ever-present possibility of a Tom Watson-in-2009-like finish at The Open — it’s clear the door is open once again. Westwood may not be playing the purest golf right now, but as The Open shows us every year, craftiness and wiliness can beat analytics at least three days out of four.

Darren Clarke (+75000): I mean, there’s always hope, right? The 2011 champion will enjoy his return to Royal St. George’s for a couple days, at least.

The long shots

Scottie Scheffler (+4000): Here’s where we find out if form is more important than experience. Scheffler has never played in a single Open Championship. Not one. But he’s posted a run of top 10s this season, and he used a T12 finish at the Scottish Open to learn the ways of winds.

Harris English (+6600): A combination of strong recent form (T3 at the U.S. Open), two PGA Tour victories this season, and success in the wind all combine to mean English is worth a second, and third and fourth, look this week.

Stewart Cink (+15000): How’s this for irony? Twelve years after ripping out the golf world’s heart by defeating Tom Watson in a playoff, Cink is now the old guy returning to The Open. And he’s playing a whole lot better golf than Watson was back then, with two victories on Tour this season. Cink is exactly the kind of player that can sneak into the conversation at an Open.


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at [email protected]

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