Scott Shapiro's 2021 Open Championship preview
If it feels like ages since the last Open Championship, because the tournament was canceled in 2020. Thankfully, though, one of my favorite sporting events and the final major on the calendar will return this week at Royal St. George’s Golf Club.
Royal St. George’s has been the site for the Open Championship 14 times, including in 2011, when Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke bested Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickleson by three strokes to capture his first and only Claret Jug. The links-style course is a par 70, measures slightly more than 7,200 yards, has bentgrass/fescue blend greens, and like most of its kind, requires patience and creativity.
It has been two years, but Shane Lowry enters as the defending champ, after his win at Royal Portrush, with a score of 19-under. It is difficult to predict what score will be good enough to win 2021’s fourth major, with so much at this venue dependent on weather and wind, but it is unlikely anyone will come close to Lowry’s number. If Mother Nature cooperates, the winner will almost definitely reach double digits, but something closer to Clarke’s 5-under tally in 2011 could be good enough to win one of the sport’s most coveted titles.
U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm is playing the best golf of his life and is the deserving favorite, at +750. Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth are the other golfers listed at below 20-1 in the outright market.
The Open Championship 2021
Sun, July 18 2021, 1:00 PM
Of that group, I prefer Rahm, Koepka, and Speith, but I will dip into the next tier for my plays in England this week.
Patrick Cantlay (+2800, top 5 +500)
Cantlay got off to a strong start in 2021, with four top 15 finishes, including a runner-up effort at the American Express and a third at Pebble Beach.
But he went through a major putting slump that led to four consecutive missed cuts from mid-March to mid-May. However, the former UCLA star turned things around with his win at the Memorial and heads to England with a serious chance to capture his first major.
Cantlay’s well-rounded game fits the Open Championship well. He enters the final major having gained strokes on his competition in all four major categories over his last 105 rounds. Cantlay also possesses the ability to avoid the blow-up hole. He ranks third in the field over his last 24 rounds in bogey avoidance and 18th in scrambling.
If his short game continues to cooperate, he should be in the mix Sunday, with a chance to earn the biggest victory of his career.
Patrick Reed (+2800, top 5 +500)
The 2018 Masters champion does not offer the consistency of his peers at the top of the outright market, but he thrives at big events on tough courses. Reed has finished in the top 10 at all four majors, including a 10th-place finish at Royal Portrush in 2019. He has just the won major victory but is likely to win at least one Open Championship before his career is complete.
The San Antonio native can be erratic off the tee, but he should be able to overcome that at Royal St. George’s, with his elite short game and ability to get out of trouble.
Reed ranks eighth in the field in scrambling over his last 24 rounds, eighth in strokes gained around the green, and is as tough as nails on key putts in big situations.
There are few guys I trust to handle the pressure down the stretch of a major championship more than Reed.