Back in March, we told you Cameron Smith could be worth a bet at the Players Championship, and the mulleted Australian ended up winning.
So it has been a good couple of months, and we’ll try to put a bow on the season by picking another winner at this year’s British Open. Here’s a look at some golfers who might claim the year’s final major title — and some who won’t.
All odds taken from the DraftKings Sportsbook on Monday evening.
Finding a winner
For the British Open, we’re targeting players who enter in good form — in regular tournament play and at majors — and who have played well at Augusta National, which has shown to be a good comparison track to the Old Course, this year’s British Open host.
First off, 15 of the past 21 British Open winners had a victory in the same season entering that year’s tournament. And each of the past 11 winners had a top-three finish or better in one of their previous seven starts. Look at just the past five British Open winners, and each had a win or a runner-up finish in his previous three tournaments. (The British Open was not held in 2020.)
British Open winner
Form entering tournament
Narrowing things down to form in recent majors, eight of the past 10 British Open winners had a top-20 finish in their previous two major appearances, and each of the past 10 winners had a top-two major finish on his résumé.
Suffice to say, we’re looking for players who are playing well right now and have played well in the past at majors, and tossing out anyone who enters in bad form.
As for comparisons with Augusta National, the Old Course also features wide fairways and minimal rough, with a need for proper shot placement.
“Just because it’s wide off the tee doesn’t mean you can blow it all over the place,” Tiger Woods, who won two claret jugs at St. Andrews, said before the 2010 tournament. “You have to hit the ball in the correct spots.”
Here’s a look at the final leader board at the 2015 British Open, the previous one played at the Old Course, and how those players have fared at the Masters.
Won in 2007
Second in 2012, three other top-20s
Won in 2015, finished second or third four other times
Won in 2017, three other top-10s
Only one appearance
Won in 2016
Won in 2013, four other top-10s
(Johnson won the 2015 British Open in a playoff over Leishman and Oosthuizen.)
Seven of the past nine winners at the Old Course also have won the Masters, with Oosthuizen in 2010 and John Daly in 1995 the exceptions. Both of those players have a top-three Masters finish on their résumés, however.
Who can win the British Open?
Xander Schauffele (+1200 to win)
If Scheffler was the talk of the early portion of the golf season, capping his quick ascension to world No. 1 with a Masters win, Schauffele has owned the middle portion. In the six tournaments leading up to the British Open, he has two wins (one of them at the Scottish Open last weekend), a tie for fifth at the Byron Nelson and no finish worse than a tie for 18th. And while Schauffele missed the cut at the Masters this year, he tied for second in 2019 and tied for third in 2021. He also won the 2019 Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, another coastal course with wide fairways and large, slow greens that’s also a good comparison to St. Andrews.
Jordan Spieth (+1600)
Spieth won the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale, was one stroke out of the playoff at St. Andrews in 2015, won the Masters in 2015 and won at Kapalua in 2016. He has a victory this year, at the Heritage in April, and three top-10s since then — one of them at the Scottish Open, which syncs with another recent trend for British Open winners: Eight of the past 10 champions played the week before.
Cameron Smith (+2800)
Smith never really has contended at the British Open, but if there’s a course in the rotation that should suit his game, it’s the Old Course, where inaccuracy off the tee (Smith’s Achilles’ heel) isn’t as punitive. Smith has played in the Masters six times and finished in the top 10 in four of them, and he won this year’s Tournament of Champions at Kapalua (along with the aforementioned Players Championship).
Will Zalatoris (+3000)
The 25-year-old has played in only one British Open, and he was forced to withdraw last year after injuring his leg while punching out from some thick rough at Royal St. George’s. The rough won’t be an issue at the Old Course, and Zalatoris has been on the verge of a major breakthrough since joining the PGA Tour: He has finished no worse than a tie for eighth in six of his nine major appearances and was second in the two majors that preceded the British Open this year. In his past nine tournaments, he has six top-10s.
Tony Finau (+3500)
Finau has played in five British Opens without a missed cut and no finish worse than a tie for 27th, with two top-10s. Plus, he has two top-10s at St. Andrews in the annual Dunhill Links tournament, where two rounds are played on the Old Course. He also has three top-10s at the Masters and comes in with some good form (two seconds and a tie for fourth over his past seven tournaments).
Sam Burns (+4000)
This is all about current form and less about major experience for the 25-year-old, whose best finish at a major is a tie for 20th at this year’s PGA Championship. (He missed the cut in his lone Masters appearance this year and tied for 76th in his British Open debut last year.) Burns has two PGA Tour wins this season, however, plus three other top-10s since March. The Old Course also tends to reward length off the tee, and Burns ranks 38th on the PGA Tour in that department.
Joohyung Kim (+15000 to win, +1100 to finish top 10, +450 to finish top 20)
If you’re looking for a long shot, why not the 20-year-old South Korean who goes by “Tom” and finished just two shots behind Schauffele at the Scottish Open? Playing on the Asian, European and PGA tours this season, Kim has racked up a number of strong finishes: 23rd at the U.S. Open, seven top-fives and a win in Singapore in January. Golfers making their British Open debuts rarely win, but Collin Morikawa did it last year.
Who won’t win the British Open?
Justin Thomas (+1600)
Thomas won this year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills, but the back injury that caused him to withdraw from the Travelers Championship a few weeks ago is worrisome, as is his missed cut at the Scottish Open after two dismal rounds. He has admitted to struggling on links courses, and he has never finished better than a tie for 11th in five British Open appearances, with two missed cuts. Thomas has had a great season, but this is not the tournament for him, particularly with odds like that.
Patrick Cantlay (+2000)
Cantlay has played in 20 majors as a professional and earned a top-10 finish in only two of them — both in 2019. He comes in with some excellent form (a win, a second, a third and a fourth in his past seven tournaments), but his disappearing act at majors makes him a cross-off until he shows up for one.
Dustin Johnson (+3500)
Johnson has the best odds of any golfer from the breakaway LIV Golf circuit in this field, and he led the tournament after two rounds the previous time the Old Course hosted the British Open in 2015. (Consecutive 75s on Saturday and Sunday sent him tumbling to a tie for 49th.) But Johnson has missed the cut in three of his past seven majors, and his putting continues to trend downward: Based on stats he compiled before he left for LIV, Johnson is tied for 177th in three-putt avoidance among PGA Tour players, a bad sign with the Old Course’s massive greens looming.
Tiger Woods (+6000)
If there’s any major course where Woods could succeed given the state of his body, it’s the Old Course, which is nice and flat. He has won two claret jugs there, by a combined 13 strokes. But I just can’t put any money on Woods until he shows he can do more than just make the cut, which he has done twice at majors this season, only to finish 47th at the Masters and withdraw after his third round at the PGA Championship.
Here are the odds as of Wednesday morning Eastern. The odds above were locked in on Monday evening.
British Open odds (via DraftKings)