As the 148th Open Championship starts to come into focus, it’s time to talk about the golfers best suited to win this event. Even though there are 156 players in the field, not all of them have an equivalent chance of taking home the Claret Jug. There is a clear top tier, but there is also a lurking second tier beyond that ready to clean things up at Royal Portrush if the mega-favorites falter.
Here are the top 25 golfers going into this tournament, ranked from the top by how likely they are to win the final major championship of 2019.
1. Brooks Koepka (Best finish — T6 in 2017): If the best major championship golfer in the world has a weakness, I suppose it’s The Open. Although I feel a bit silly saying that a pair of top-10 finishes in his last three starts is a weakness. Regardless, he’s proven that of all the top dogs, his stuff is the most suited to these types of events. I could not possibly care less about the finishes in non-majors. In fact, I wish he would just stop playing non-majors altogether. Can you imagine? The best golfer in the world shows up four times a year and spends the other 48 weeks making sure the filters on his Instagram feed are properly adjusted.
2. Rory McIlroy (Won in 2014): The storyline honestly. McIlroy has been the most consistently great major championship golfer over the last decade and arguably the best player on the planet in 2019. And he’s going back to a course in Royal Portrush where he holds the course record. If he wins this Open with this field then the last five years of futility suddenly vanishes like it never happened. Poof, Rory got to five, and only nine post-World War II golfers would have more major titles, and all of them are legends.
3. Matt Kuchar (2nd in 2017): Good afternoon, I’m here to break some news to you. The information is three-pronged. All I’m doing is prepping you for what could possibly go down at Portrush this week.
- Matt Kuchar is having the best season of his career.
- Matt Kuchar is in a group of eight who have multiple top 10s in the last five Opens.
- Matt Kuchar crushed early at the Scottish Open last weekend.
4. Adam Scott (2nd in 2012): The Australian finished in the top eight at both Bethpage Black and Pebble Beach, and he’s having the best season of anyone yet to win. Also, he has a history here. Some might say it is a dark and sordid history — and some of it is! — but the man hasn’t missed an Open cut since Tom Watson nearly won in 2009 and only has one finish north of the top 25 in his last eight tries.
5. Justin Rose (T2 in 2018): His best finish at this tournament until last year when he barely made the cut and went on to take T2 was in 1998 when he went T4 as an amateur. A Rose win wouldn’t do much broadly, but Portrush would fit nicely into his preposterous collection of conquered courses.
6. Xander Schauffele (T2 in 2018): The chasm between T2 and solo 1 is wider than it may appear. We know Schauffele has the talent — that’s fairly obvious at this point — but does he have the thing it takes to close a three-stroke lead with 13 holes left and a bunch of multiple-time major winners huffing at his neck? It’s one of a handful of scenarios we haven’t yet seen that would pique my curiosity.
7. Patrick Cantlay (T12 in 2018): Strangely, last season was his first appearance at The Open. He took advantage with a T12 finish, and now he’s having one of the great strokes gained seasons of the last 20 years. It will be tough to watch him in Europe for the first time since the last time we could have seen him in Europe at the 2018 Ryder Cup.
8. Tiger Woods (Won in 2000, 2005, 2006): I could justify anywhere between about 3-20 on this list. The reality here is that we don’t know if the big break between events is great or horrible for him. It would be easy to take the PGA Championship and U.S. Open data and extrapolate it to say that he should be playing more, but Bethpage Black is such a different track than Portrush. Tiger contending at Carnoustie last season opened my eyes to the reality that as long as the spine is vertical, Tiger is going to be a thorn at Opens for many, many more years.
9. Henrik Stenson (Won in 2016): After a sluggish start to 2019, he’s had three straight top 10s and is cresting at the right time. No word yet on the effects of Brexit on getting his 3-wood through security in Belfast.
10. Dustin Johnson (T2 in 2011): I’ll do it because I respect the game, but he only has one top-10 finish in his last six after nearly swiping the 2011 rendition.
11. Jon Rahm (T44 in 2017): It’s not that hard to envision because Rahm wins everywhere in the world — if you’re bagging Lahinch and Torrey Pines, you’re a dude — but his Open record concerns me a bit. Shouldn’t he have at least a top-30 finish at this point?
12. Francesco Molinari (Won in 2018): I’m worried that the Big Cat may have broken him at Augusta National. He doesn’t have a top 10 since then.
13. Tommy Fleetwood (T12 in 2018): It feels like I say to myself, “Man it’s easy to see Fleetwood winning here” at least three times every major season.
14. Justin Thomas (T53 in 2016): Might be the forgotten man. Also might be like the third-best player in the world. We live in a world that doesn’t think beyond the last week, much less the last three months, but Thomas was awesome to start 2019 and played quite well in Scotland last weekend. I confess the T53-MC-MC start to his Open career does not engender a load of confidence.
15. Hideki Matsuyama (T6 in 2013): Has not thrived at this tournament recently, but he’s having an unbelievable ball-striking season and should be helped by this little fact as noted by Golfweek.
The Forecaddie counted an almost perfect blend of shot shapes required off the tees and greens, setting up ideally for stout ball strikers who may just be so-so on the putting surfaces.
16. Louis Oosthuizen (Won in 2010): T7 at the U.S. Open was just his second top-10 at a major since nearly winning St. Andrews in 2015. I loved this recent tidbit about why Oosthuizen once played the John Deere Classic the week before the Open (although he didn’t this year) before taking the chartered flight from Illinois to Europe.
The jet has also drawn elite players with a curiosity for the tournament. “Louis Oosthuizen is a huge John Deere guy,” Peterson said. “He bought a 6000 series tractor with his Open winnings and came here the year after he won to go on a factory tour. The jet allowed him to still get on and go and defend.”
17. Webb Simpson (T12 in 2018): Since missing the cut at Liverpool in 2014, Simpson has steadily improved every year at this event. That culminated in a T12 last year at Carnoustie. Last time we saw him in Europe, he was downing Justin Rose in a Ryder Cup singles match.
18. Rickie Fowler (T2 in 2014): Interestingly, since he lost to McIlroy in 2014, Fowler hasn’t finished in the top 10 at a tournament where he should thrive. No top 10s anywhere this year since the Wells Fargo Championship in May.
19. Jason Day (T4 in 2015): Doesn’t top 10 at Opens but doesn’t really miss cuts either. I’m unsure of the antihistamine situation in Northern Ireland.
20. Jordan Spieth (Won in 2017): I realize this sounds ludicrous given how poor he’s been in 2019, but I can’t ignore the three top 10s here in the last five years, nor the whole “playing in the final pairing” thing last year at Carnoustie. These places have a way of unearthing whatever magic you have buried.
21. Marc Leishman (T2 in 2015): He’s one of just four golfers with three or more top 10s at the last five of these. The faster and firmer the track, the better off Leishman should be. He should thrive at a classic like Portrush.
22. Gary Woodland (T12 in 2016): I’m putting him here because of what I’m deeming the Floodgate Rule. But do we think Woodland is a twice-in-a-year major guy or even a twice-in-a-career major guy? Maybe so, but the former seems especially unlikely.
23. Matt Wallace (MC in 2018): Top 12 in his last two majors, and he’s turned into a menace on the course. Europe always seems to have that one guy every two-year cycle that makes you have nightmares about what he’s going to do at the Ryder Cup. Wallace is that guy this time around.
24. Bryson DeChambeau (T51 in 2018): He has played 13 majors. He has finished in the top 10 in zero of them.
25. Tyrrell Hatton (T5 in 2016): Either he contends or seals in the North Atlantic should be on high alert.
So who will win The Open Championship, and which long shots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now and see the projected Open leaderboard from the model that’s nailed two straight golf majors to find out.