“Yeah, the game is there.”
“Another top five in a major.”
“I guess it doesn’t really mean anything.”
Those three sentences were Rory McIlroy’s first words after his final round at last month’s US Open. McIlroy was being sincere, although a bit harshly so. After all, a top five is worse, at worst, than only four other players. Then again, this is McIlroy. You don’t play for the look-on-the-bright-sides. And in the eight years since his last major win, at the 2014 PGA Championship, what he said at the US Open has only been repeated at golf’s biggest events.
This week, of course, he gets another stab at ending the drought, and a McIlroy victory at the Open Championship, on its 150th anniversary, at St. Andrews, would be a helluva headline, even in this bizarre golf year. Would be. As we try to find a winner for the Open, I’ve asked colleagues James Colgan and Josh Sens to answer both why McIlroy could win, and why he could be again talking about what could have been. And to help your picks even further, members of our staff have each made a to-win bet using odds from BetMGM.
Let’s get to it then. (And if you’re looking to place any of these bets yourself, we teamed with BetMGM, and the online sports book is offering a new promotion: Make a risk-free bet up to $1,000. Sign up for an account to get into the action today.)
Why this is the week it all comes together for Rory McIlroy and he wins the Open Championship, on his 150th playing, at St. Andrews
James Colgan: This is the week it all comes together for Rory McIlroy because it’s the week he finally finds his major mojo. For years, McIlroy talked about losing the ebbs and flows to his game. About being a more consistent player. And how has that manifested itself? Largely, in Rory being a stellar player in shootouts, and not-so-stellar in grind-it-out competitions. The Old Course is going to be a shootout, and for a player of his considerable shot-making prowess, it’s the perfect place for a Rory break through (and it sure doesn’t hurt his confidence that fairways 1 and 18 are roughly 300 yards wide).
Josh Sens: Has the rise of LIV lit a fire under Rory? He’s been talking passionately about it. And playing some inspired golf along the way. McIlroy has always made it plain how much certain events mean to him. The Ryder Cup, for instance. Like playing for country, there’s been the sense of late that McIlroy is playing for something more than personal achievement. His outspoken defense of tradition has gone hand in hand with a stretch of outstanding play. Maybe I’m over-analysing, but I’m expecting an especially motivated performance from Rory as the game’s oldest championship comes to a course that embodies tradition more than any other. It makes for a fitting story, anyway.
Nick Piastowski: He has the firepower; if the conditions are mild this week, the biggest hitters will thrive at the Old Course. He has the momentum; since a missed cut the week before the Masters, McIlroy has finished no worse than a tie for 19th. It’s all there for him.
Why Rory McIlroy will fall short again
James Colgan: Rory will fall short again because he doesn’t have that dawg in him – kidding. He’ll fall short because, like all the other majors he’s played in the past 15 months, he can’t avoid the blow-up holes. Maybe a tee shot will skitter into the burn, or a pot bunker. Maybe he’ll smash his drive on the 17th on Friday into the Old Course Hotel. Who knows? But if Rory doesn’t win this week, it’ll be because he makes The Big Mistake, and then he compounds it by letting it unravel the remainder of his week.
Josh Sens: On paper, McIlroy should have won a couple of these already. But the burden of trying to break his major-championship drought has seemed to have weighed heavily on him. The more you want it, the harder it can be to make it happen. More than anything, that might explain the kind of Whac-a-Mole golf Rory has played in majors – just when he solves one problem, another one pops up. That this one means so much to him will be the very thing that gets in his way.
Nick Piastowski: Until he proves he can overcome the moment, it’s just really hard to pick him.
Staff picks to win the Open Championship
Roofing: Rory McIlroy, +1,000. Mr. McIlroy has had a great season so far, and considering his early trip over the pond both to play in the JP McManus Pro-Am and to roam the links with Tiger Woods talking shot-making and links golf — how could he NOT be charged up to play?
Roofing: Shane Lowry, +2,200. An absolute maestro with his wedges, which on a short-ish Old Course setup will be a key to winning. Also is innately attuned to all the subtleties of links-golf strategy. Next week, he picks up jug number two.
Roofing: Jordan Spieth, +1,600. Hate to brag, everyone, but I have correctly picked two of the year’s three major winners (need a mulligan for the US Open), and yet I feel the most confident in this Open Championship pick. I love Jordan Spieth at St. Andrews. Let’s not forget how close he was to winning there in 2015, when he finished bogey-par and a spot out of a playoff, and let’s also remember how Spieth is the game’s ultimate grinder. I love him in unpredictable Scottish conditions. His putter hasn’t been great, but Open Championship greens are typically slower and this can bring below-average putters back into the mix. There’s a lot to like about Jordan at the Old Course.
Roofing: Xander Schauffele, +1,400. If we learned anything from Scottie Scheffler’s win at the Masters, it’s that it’s OK to trust a hot hand. And given his win at the Travelers, his strong form at the JP McManus Pro-Am and his victory at the Genesis Scottish Open, no one is hotter Oh, and I pick Xander to win every major, so take this with a grain of salt .
Roofing: Cam Smith, +2,500. I’m pretty certain Cam Smith is going to win the Open at St. Andrews. He’s not notably long or notably accurate off the tee, which is sort of perfect for St. Andrews. It means he’s got enough power to take advantage of the Old Course, and enough wiggle room to spray his driver occasionally. Where he’ll excel is with his short irons, wedges and putter. Those are the strengths of his game, and the key to taking it low at St. Andrews.
Roofing: Rory McIlroy, +1,000. After a maddening year of close calls in majors, Rory finally gets it done at the Home of Golf. Every advanced metric points to a McIlroy victory this week – it’ll all come down to whether he can win the battle with his mind. I like his chances.
Roofing: Rory McIlroy, +1,000. If St. Andrews turns into a birdie fest this week, I want the player with the most firepower. Rory wins another major.
Roofing: Scottie Scheffler, +1,800. In the modern era, the statistical link between the Old Course and Augusta has been striking. Players who do well in the Masters tend to do the same at St. Andrews. Things should be no different for the reigning Masters champion and top-ranked player in the world.
Roofing: Will Zalatoris, +2,200. Keeps banging on the major championship door. He’s going to eventually knock it down. This is the week.
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