2023 Open Championship First-Round Leader Picks: Bet Max Homa, Denny McCarthy & Harris English
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Max Homa
The 151st Open Championship begins on Thursday, and what’s better than starting off a major championship with a first-round leader hit?
With driver seemingly more in play than in recent iterations of The Open at Royal Liverpool — after renovations to the course and recent rain — I’ll be prioritizing players in the FRL market who are strong off the tee and also have upside with the putter and approach play.
Open Championship First-Round Leader Picks
Max Homa +5500 FRL
First-Round Tee Time: 10:10 a.m. ET
I’m buying low here on Max Homa. The Cal product has all of the tools to take the first-round lead in Hoylake, as he has both above-average driving accuracy and driving distance, strong approach play and a putter that's also quietly elite.
Homa was hot to start 2023 with top-three finishes in three of his first four starts, including a win at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he was incredible on approach and with the putter.
After the Florida swing, Homa’s ball-striking became more inconsistent, but entering The Open Championship, he's gaining momentum by gaining strokes off the tee in four consecutive events and gaining strokes on approach in four of his last five.
Homa lost strokes on approach last week at the Genesis Scottish Open, but his elite short game carried him to a T12 finish.
If he can build on that performance with his usually strong approach play, he can take the lead on Thursday and even win his first major championship.
Denny McCarthy +10000 FRL
First-Round Tee Time: 8:37 a.m. ET
Denny McCarthy enters The Open Championship with the hottest putter on the planet, and with the course looking softer and greener than expected, he's in prime position to capitalize by going low on Thursday.
McCarthy not only has top-20 finishes in each of his last four starts, but he's also gained strokes with his putter in nine straight tournaments.
In that nine-tournament span, McCarthy has gained over four strokes with his putter five times for the week, including at the Memorial Tournament — another big ballpark in a designated event where he lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland despite gaining over 11 strokes with his putter.
In addition to his elite putting, McCarthy boasts top-10 ranks in both First-Round Scoring Average and Bogey Avoidance, which shows he's normally a fast starter who can also limit his mistakes.
While McCarthy is in his sixth year on the PGA Tour, this is his first season in which he's gaining strokes on approach.
Pair that with sneakily above-average length and a driver that's been above field-average accuracy in seven of his last eight tracked tournaments, and McCarthy has all of the necessary tools to cash a first-round leader ticket.
Harris English +11000 FRL
First-Round Tee Time: 3:14 a.m. ET
Harris English is an intriguing triple-digit first-round leader play because of his potentially elite approach play and short game.
English missed most of last season with an injury and has been working himself back into form this season. While he hasn’t yet returned to the level of play he showed pre-injury in 2021 (when he won twice on Tour), he's begun to show glimpses of that elite talent over his last six starts.
In that six-start span, he's gained over 12 strokes total twice when he finished T3 at the Wells Fargo Championship and T8 at the U.S. Open. Those tournaments were described by golf twitter’s new favorite player, Michael Kim, as posing similar challenges to Royal Liverpool this week — which bodes extremely well for English.
At the Wells Fargo Championship, the Georgia Bulldog gained nearly eight strokes on approach while pairing that with gaining nearly five strokes with his putter.
At the U.S. Open, English was about average from tee-to-green but led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting by over a half stroke per round.
If English can get hot with his irons and let his strong around-the-green game and putting flourish, he has a chance to take the lead on Thursday.