The British Open 2021: Favorites, Long Shots, And No Hopers
It’s been a wonderful year for golf. The majors, especially, have delivered. Sometimes those holy grails of the sport, those four weeks a year when all eyes turn to the links, can disappoint – lackluster courses, uninspiring winners, no real drama. Not this year.
First, we had the likable Hideki Matsuyama becoming Japan’s first-ever major winner by edging out American all-stars Spieth and Schauffele – as well as the surprise challenger upstart kid Will Zalatoris – at a sumptuous Augusta National.
Next, the PGA Championship delivered the kind of test lacking in the last few years at the brutal Kiawah Island, with the ever-popular, ever thrilling Phil Mickelson defying the odds to become the oldest ever men’s major champion.
And then, just a few weeks ago, and just two weeks after being denied at the Memorial by COVID, John Rahm, many people’s favorite to dominate the next era of majors, won at the US Open at Torrey Pines. It was a particularly mouth-watering field, with major winners at every turn: Dechambeau, Morikawa, Koepka, McIlroy, Oosthuizen. But it was the combustible Spaniard who rose to the top, becoming the first-ever player from Spain to win the US Open and leapfrogging Dustin Johnson to the top of the world rankings.
Now all eyes turn to Royal St George’s, for the first British Open since the pandemic began. But who are the favorites, who are the long shots, and who has no chance?
Where else to start but with Rahmbo himself? He’s quite rightly returned to the world’s number one spot, so he deserves his place as the tournament’s top seed. He’s also playing the best golf in the world right now – his US Open performance was so impressive, both for its golf and its calm. Rahm is a player who can let the little things get to him, but at Torrey Pines, he was cool and collected.
The Spaniard was arguably even more impressive at the Memorial, where he led by six shots after three rounds before COVID intervened. Having the mental strength to bounce back from that disappointment, combined with the confidence that he’s got the game to win the big events, can only serve him in good stead at Royal St George’s.
On top of that, there’s no real weakness to Rahm’s game: he drives long and straight, his irons are excellent, he’s got the Spanish touch around the greens, and he’s finally figured out a new Odyssey putter which works for him. The only thing tempering is that the British Open hasn’t always been a happy hunting ground for Rahmbo.
Before 2019, he hadn’t finished in the top thirty. But in 2019, he pushed up to T11, and let’s not forget this is a man who won back-to-back Irish Opens so that he can play links golf. All in all, Rahm has to be the favorite, and for a good reason.
But what about Louis Oosthuizen? The smoothest swinging player on tour is in incredible form, having finished agonizingly close at the PGA and the US Open this year. In fact, Oosthuizen has SIX-second place finishes in the majors, to go alongside the British Open he won at St Andrew’s in 2010.
His swing is so perfect it’s a shock when the ball goes anywhere except dead straight, and to top it off, he’s currently the best putter on the PGA Tour. Add in the fact that he’s already won at the home of golf, and he’s got to be a good shout. However, there is a caveat to the South African’s chances: his solitary major win was a bit of a shock.
Oosthuizen’s first ten majors missed the cut eight times, finished outside the top seventy once, and won the other. All of his second-place finishes have come since then. You do wonder whether Louis has the mentality to get over the line, especially now he’s more of a contender. Does he have the mindset to go the distance again?
He chose to lay up from a difficult lie on the 72nd hole at Torrey, needing an eagle to force a playoff. Would a winner in their prime have taken the safe route?
The Long Shots
What about the guys in the chasing pack? Those outside of the favorites, but who have a decent chance of making a charge?
Leading that group is the ever likable Norwegian Viktor Hovland. At just 23 years old, he’s already won twice on the PGA Tour and became the first-ever victorious Norweigian on the European Tour a few weeks ago. He’s straight and long off the tee and has that X-Factor, which marks players out from the pack. Could the Open be the stage for his first major victory?
A few things are working against him: firstly, he has never played an Open Championship, with his first appearance in 2020 being denied by the pandemic. Secondly, the weakest part of his game is his chipping. Links golf is notorious for its swells, hollows, and run-off areas, which is vital to confidence and ingenuity around the greens.
These factors to me make it unlikely Hovland will kickstart his major career at Royal St George’s – but sometimes the ignorance of youth can be a blessing more than a curse, and with that smile permanently plastered over his face, who wouldn’t want to see him lift the Claret Jug?
The equally likable Collin Morikawa is another up-and-coming one with a major already safely tucked away. This guy is so impressive on and off the course, and the way he stormed to victory at the 2020 PGA told us a lot about his character. On top of that, Morikawa is in excellent form – he challenged at both the US Open and the Memorial that preceded it, impressing against stellar fields both times.
There is an argument that Morikawa is the best iron player globally, and that is crucial in links golf, where hitting the wrong part of a green can be worse than missing altogether. The only question mark around Colin is whether the fragility of his putting stroke will hold up around the Open’s famously tricky greens, but if he finds some confidence with the short stick, he could be a real contender.
Finally, is it ever possible to rule out Jordan Spieth? He’s not in the best form right now, but the resurrection of his career over the last year has been a joy to watch.
He’s as erratic as they come, but with imagination around the greens that is unrivaled in the modern game, the ability to make par from miles off line and bogey from the center of the fairway, and a strong showing at the links-Esque Kiawah Island Course at the PGA, let’s hope that Jordan has a strong showing at Royal St George’s. Even if he doesn’t win, it’s sure to be entertaining!
The No Hopers
There are some big names here, so buckle up. First is world number two, Dustin Johnson. When DJ romped to victory at the delayed 2020 Masters, it seemed like he was finally going to fulfill his long-prophesied position as the best golfer of his generation. But it just hasn’t happened.
Since that point, Johnson has gone off the ball, barely seeming to challenge and just struggling to get any form going. His lackadaisical, no-stress approach is a massive boon when he’s playing well, making him seem unbeatable.
But when he’s off his game, it can look like DJ has lost motivation. Couple that with a pretty poor record at the British Open – since 2013, he’s only broken the top 20 once and hasn’t truly challenged since 2011 – and you’ve got to rule Dustin out of contention for at least one more week.
The next one pains me, but my second no-hoper is Rory McIlroy. As a brit, I would love to be proved wrong. Rory is the only player who can hang with DJ shot for shot when they’re both on their game, and he has been finding some form in recent weeks. But, despite a victory here in 2014 and three consecutive top 5s afterward, the Open never seems to suit Rory that much.
He likes to play with a big high ball flight rather than the stingers that are so effective on links courses. A pretty poor showing at the Irish Open did little to convince McIlroy to end his major drought next week.
And finally, the big dog himself, Bryson Dechambeau. For a moment, it looked like Bryson was going to go back to back at the US Open. But then a quite spectacular collapse took hold on the back nine, and in the weeks that followed, Dechambeau has split with his long-term caddy. Is he distracted by his upcoming big money ‘Match’ against Phil Mickelson?
Or his ongoing social media feud with Brooks Koepka? Either way, his golf is suffering. Bryson’s recent victories have been built on power, but that’s not the formula at the Open Championship.
It’s all about positioning your approaches, an area where Bryson has been way off the ball recently. I predict he’ll thrash a few balls into unplayable positions on his way to missing the cut, most likely sparking more online beef with Koepka and making it an entertaining – but ultimately unsuccessful – week for the man with muscle.