Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Rickie Fowler
- The top of my rankings for The Open Championship is heavy on players who've had success on links courses in the past.
- Sergio Garcia might be a surprise at the top, but he's in good form after a rough start to the major season.
- Branden Grace has five major finishes of sixth-or-better since 2015. He's one of my sleepers for the 2018 British Open.
Carnoustie Golf Links doesn’t suffer fools.
Of the seven players who have tamed the fearsome track enough to be called Champion Golfer of the Year, five have been enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame, and another, Padraig Harrington, almost certainly will be someday.
That doesn’t mean a relative journeyman or unknown can’t walk in the footsteps of Tommy Armour and Ben Hogan, claiming his rightful place in history with a victory this week, but you’d have a better chance of finding a glass full of ice cubes in a Scottish pub.
My ranking of the entire field in this week’s 147th Open Championship, from No. 1 right through the poor lad at 156, reflects the past at Carnoustie, with plenty of talent at the top — just not necessarily the names you’d expect.
1. Sergio Garcia
The last time this tournament was held at Carnoustie, Garcia was the tough-luck runner-up in a playoff — but that’s not why he tops this list. No, it’s because he’s established himself as one of the world’s preeminent links players. A ball-striker of the highest magnitude, he’d finished top-six in each of the previous three editions of this event before last year’s T-37 result. Overall, he owns 10 top-10s in his past 17 Open Championship starts. Garcia struggled mightily between the Masters and U.S. Open — which, perhaps not coincidentally, coincided with fatherhood for the first time — but owns results of T-12 and T-8 in his past two starts, indicating he’s ready to make a serious run at a second major championship title.
2. Marc Leishman
Blow wind, blow. There might not be a player better suited for a fast, firm golf course in a stiff breeze than Leishman, whose Australian roots still show in his ability to strategically low-ball his way around a track such as this one. Three years ago, he reached a playoff at St. Andrews, an experience that should serve him well should he reach another Sunday leaderboard. And don’t mistake him for a trendy dark horse: At No. 18 in the world, he ranks one spot above the more heralded player who tops him on this list.
3. Tommy Fleetwood
It was all set up for him last year. Fleetwood was in terrific form and in familiar territory, returning home to play Royal Birkdale, a course that his father would sneak him onto as a youngster. Perhaps that proved to be too much pressure, as he finished in a respectable-yet-disappointing share of 27th place. With just a tad less focus on him this week, Fleetwood returns in great form again, on the strength of a final-round 63 to finish runner-up at the U.S. Open. He appears primed for yet another contention this time around.
4. Branden Grace
How good is this South African on links tracks? Let’s put it this way: They’ve been holding major championships since 1860, and nobody had posted an 18-hole score of 62 until Grace at Royal Birkdale last year, making the record look uncommonly easy in the process. He also tends to play his best golf in the biggest moments, compiling five major finishes of sixth or better since 2015. He’s another player who won’t receive much fanfare from the masses, but his body of work demands plenty of attention.
5. Rickie Fowler
In last week’s Scottish Open preview, I wrote about Fowler FOMO — basically, I’ve been picking him at majors for so long that I now fear a fade knowing his first title is inevitable. And the truth is, there’s no reason to fade him now. Fresh off a strong performance at Gullane, he’s finished in the top 20 in each of his past five starts and hasn’t finished worse than 22nd in his past six starts at majors. Just because he hasn’t won one (yet), Fowler is still viewed by some as more flash than substance, but the world’s seventh-ranked player is doing everything he can to destroy that label.
6. Brooks Koepka
There might be some definitive parallels between Koepka’s impending week and that of last year at Royal Birkdale. Weeks after winning his first U.S. Open, he raced to a share of the first-round lead, then was T-3 after the second and third rounds before finishing a more-than-respectable T-6. Fresh off a successful title defense, don’t be surprised if Koepka enjoys a similar performance. He’s been remarkably consistent in major championships, and those early pro years playing the European Tour certainly won’t hurt him.
7. Alex Noren
It’s official, folks: We’ve reached the point where Noren isn’t “underrated” and won’t “sneak up on anyone.” Really, we reached that point two years ago, but he’s still been largely neglected for some unknown reason. OK, maybe that reason is because his major championship results have still left something to be desired, but last year’s T-6 finish at this tournament should be the hint we needed to continue placing him among the game’s elite in these situations. Like so many others topping this list, Noren is an adept and experienced links player. He’s also found most of his success on European soil, claiming seven wins in just over three years.
8. Tiger Woods
Two areas where Woods has struggled this season: driving accuracy, as he ranks 176th, and putting, as he’s 57th and plummeting with every timid stroke. At Carnoustie, he’ll largely be able to keep Frank The Headcover on his driver for many tee shots, while the fast greens that have befuddled him in the U.S. give way to the relative shagginess of an Open venue. None of that should suggest that Tiger is ready to claim his 15th major this week, but course characteristics should help him avoid those issues that have plagued him throughout the year.
9. Jason Day
If it’s possible for a world-class player to win twice on the PGA Tour and own two other top-fives in the first six months of the year while doing so relatively quietly, then Day has completed that task. He entered the year as 13th in the world, has enjoyed that much success and has risen only four places, which might say more about his fellow stars than himself. If he can avoid a slow start — he ranks 92nd in opening-round scoring average — Day should be able to carry some momentum and confidence into weekend contention.
10. Russell Knox
If you’re looking for recent form on similar types of tracks, look no further than Knox, who won the Irish Open two weeks ago and contended at the Scottish Open before ostensibly running out of steam in the final round. As long as he gets a little fuel back in the tank during the lead-up to the first round, there’s no reason to believe the Scotsman won’t continue posting solid scores in his homeland. His past Open record — a T-30 and two missed cuts — doesn’t sound promising, but he’s a better player now than during any of those years.
11. Justin Rose
Somewhat peculiarly, Rose’s T-4 as an amateur in 1998 remains his best Open finish and one of only two top-10s.
12. Dustin Johnson
Won’t need to hit many drivers, which negates his usual advantage. Like putting Kryptonite in Superman’s golf bag.
13. Henrik Stenson
Beware the injured golfer? The 2016 champion hopes so, as he’s fresh off a WD last week with an elbow injury.
14. Jordan Spieth
The defending champ will rely on being creative again over technical, but six straight starts outside the top 20 is ugly.
15. Matthew Fitzpatrick
Trending in the right direction and will win something soon, but this one might be asking a bit too much.
16. Tyrrell Hatton
Every other year? Was top-10 in two major starts in 2016, MC’d in all four last year and was T-6 at the recent U.S. Open.
17. Xander Schauffele
This guy is proving to be a big-game hunter. In five career major starts, he’s finished top-20 in three of ’em.
18. Justin Thomas
As much talent as anyone in the world, but he’s yet to prove he’s figured out the secret to succeeding on links tracks.
19. Lee Westwood
Now 45 and admittedly past his prime, a recent run of form could have us recalling his buddy Darren Clarke from 2011.
20. Rory McIlroy
You’d think a prolific Northern Irishman would prefer a fast, firm course over a long, soft one. You’d be wrong.
21. Matthew Southgate
Pay close attention, kids. All he’s done in the past two Opens is finish T-6 and T-12. In good form right now, too.
22. Matt Kuchar
Perhaps slow-played out of a Claret Jug last year, he should return feeling he’s got a little unfinished business here.
23. Brandt Snedeker
Only in the field based on a strong final round at The Greenbrier, that domino effect could lead to some nice future results.
24. Phil Mickelson
What will Phil do next? The secret to his success might rest in keeping away from any rules violations this week.
25. Jon Rahm
Still just 23 and a pro for only two years, the major wins will come, but Bellerive seems more likely than Carnoustie.
26. Dylan Frittelli
Get on board now. This guy’s the next Fleetwood type — a player who consistently keeps improving his standing.
27. Zach Johnson
Fresh off a strong final round at his fifth major, the John Deere, he’ll enjoy the speedy course conditions this week.
28. Patrick Reed
Since 1950, men to win Masters and Open in same year: Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Faldo, O’Meara, Woods.
29. Andy Sullivan
Five top-10s in his past eight starts should qualify the Englishman as a worthy pick with tons of inherent value.
30. Haotong Li
A surprise third-place finisher last year, the world has yet to recognize just how good this youngster is going to be.
31. Eddie Pepperell
Zooming into Carnoustie with plenty of momentum based on his second-place Scottish Open finish, which just got him into this field.
32. Ryan Fox
Fresh off a pair of strong performances at the Irish and Scottish, should be a popular value pick for top 10 or top 20.
33. Andrew Landry
Three things going for him this week: already has a win this year, has contended in a major, plays well in the wind.
34. Francesco Molinari
Based on two wins and two runners-up in his past five starts, should be a super-trendy pick in the betting and DFS markets this week.
35. Ian Poulter
Been a year of rejuvenation for Poulter, whose four top-10s equal his total from the previous three years combined.
36. Charl Schwartzel
In 13 previous Open starts, owns just one top-10, but six top-25s. Often plays solid, usually not solid enough.
37. Shane Lowry
The type of player made for the links? It would appear so, but MCs in his past three Open starts would say otherwise.
38. Tony Finau
Players who have finished top-10 in the first two majors this year: Reed, DJ, Stenson and, yes, Finau, with a T-5 and T-10.
39. Cameron Smith
Not playing his best golf entering this week, which is a shame, because he’s masterful with a wedge around the greens.
40. Thomas Pieters
So much talent, but posted just his second top-10 of the year on Sunday, which should at least offer up some confidence.
41. Peter Uihlein
Like his buddy Koepka, early years spent competing on the European circuit should help with familiarity this week.
42. Adam Scott
It’s been six years since The One That Got Away, and it no longer feels like a given that Scott will claim a Claret Jug.
43. Patrick Cantlay
Obviously owns gobs of talent, but consider him a great unknown this week, as he makes his debut in this event.
44. Byeong Hun An
He’s now played 13 major championships as a professional and never finished better than 23rd place in any of ’em.
45. Thorbjorn Olesen
A disappointing season improved with an Italian Open win last month, and he’s posted two top-six results since then.
46. Hideki Matsuyama
This dude shows up for majors: He’s finished top-20 in each of the past seven and 11 of the past 14.
47. Jazz Janewattananond
At 22 and with five pro wins, he could be this year’s Haotong Li, who surprised with a third-place finish last year.
48. Paul Casey
An Englishman whose game is antithetical to the home soil, as his high-ball game plays better on PGA Tour venues.
49. Stewart Cink
The man who “stole” Tom Watson’s sixth Open title has a pair of top-five finishes in his past three starts.
50. Chris Wood
Been nearly a decade since he started his Open career with results of T-5 and T-3, but still worth keeping an eye on.
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51. Louis Oosthuizen
52. Nicolas Colsaerts
53. Ross Fisher
54. Daniel Berger
55. Jason Dufner
56. Jimmy Walker
57. Alexander Bjork
If you’ve been scouring the European Tour leaderboards, you’ve seen this name popping up more and more lately.
58. Danny Willett
59. Brian Harman
60. Webb Simpson
61. Bubba Watson
Sure, he owns three wins this year, but no results better than T-23 in nine Open starts should be reason for pessimism.
62. Brendan Steele
63. Russell Henley
64. Julian Suri
65. Matt Wallace
66. Bryson DeChambeau
67. Anirban Lahiri
68. Brandon Stone
Sunday’s final round coulda, woulda, shoulda been the first Euro Tour 59, but he’ll “settle” for a W and a spot in this field.
69. Luke List
70. Paul Dunne
71. Jorge Campillo
72. Kyle Stanley
73. Emiliano Grillo
74. Rafa Cabrera Bello
75. Padraig Harrington
Followed his 2007 win at Carnoustie with another British Open title the next year, but hasn’t finished better than 20th in nine starts since.
76. Pat Perez
77. Charley Hoffman
78. Kiradech Aphibarnrat
79. Alexander Levy
80. Charles Howell III
81. Martin Kaymer
82. Beau Hossler
On a smaller scale, put him in the same boat as Cantlay: Lots of talent, but an unknown commodity in these conditions.
83. George Coetzee
84. Keegan Bradley
85. Chez Reavie
86. Kevin Kisner
87. Jens Dantorp
88. Shubhankar Sharma
89. Kevin Na
90. Cameron Davis
91. Ryan Moore
92. Ernie Els
Now 48 and still playing a full schedule, it would be great to see the Big Easy turn back the clock and contend this week.
93. Jonas Blixt
94. Jhonattan Vegas
95. Hideto Tanihara
96. Austin Cook
97. Kevin Chappell
98. Shaun Norris
99. Chesson Hadley
100. Patton Kizzire
101. Michael Kim
It feels reckless to have a guy this low who just won by eight shots, but there’s only so much mental and physical energy available.
102. Si-Woo Kim
103. Oliver Wilson
104. Gary Woodland
105. Lucas Herbert
106. Bernhard Langer
Never underestimate this ageless wonder, who made another journey from a senior major to a regular major this week.
107. Jordan Smith
108. Adam Hadwin
109. Grant Forrest
110. Tom Lehman
111. a-Jovan Rebula
Ernie Els’ nephew won the British Amateur this year, which could be just the start of a long, fruitful career.
112. Ryan Armour
113. Yusaku Miyazato
114. Tom Lewis
115. David Duval
116. Marcus Kinhult
117. Matt Jones
118. Fabrizio Zanotti
119. Bronson Burgoon
120. Sung Kang
121. Erik van Rooyen
His T-4 at the Irish Open was sandwiched by a pair of MCs, but it could be enough to draw some interest this week.
122. Abraham Ancer
123. Michael Hendry
124. Kelly Kraft
125. Scott Jamieson
126. Ryuko Tokimatsu
127. Sang Hyun Park
128. Retief Goosen
It’s been a few years, but he owned a remarkable Open record from 1997-2010: eight top-10s, 11 top-25s, one missed cut.
129. Yuta Ikeda
130. Zander Lombard
131. Brett Rumford
132. Gavin Green
133. Jason Kokrak
134. Jack Senior
135. Satoshi Kodaira
136. Marcus Armitage
137. Rhys Enoch
138. a-Nicolai Hojgaard
139. Brady Schnell
140. Min Chel Choi
141. Shota Akiyoshi
142. Darren Clarke
Since 2002, he’s made 47 major championship starts and owns just a single top-10 — that victory in the Open in 2011.
143. Masahiro Kawamura
144. Sean Crocker
145. a-Yuxin Lin
146. Ash Turner
147. Masanori Kobayashi
148. Thomas Curtis
149. Todd Hamilton
150. Mark Calcavecchia
151. Danthai Boonma
152. James Robinson
153. Kodai Ichihara
154. Sandy Lyle
155. a-Sam Locke
156. Haraldur Magnus
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here, but one of the best names in the field is fresh off a T-21 at the Camfil Nordic Championship, preceded by a missed cut at the Gamle Fredrikstad Open. Haraldur might be No. 1 in your heart this week, but the world ranking says he’s clearly No. 1,089.
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