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Five long shots who can win the British Open

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The Open Championship is played on a style of course with a style of golf that the players and fans don’t often get to see.

It gives golf fans in North America a chance to watch things that we just aren’t that familiar with: sweaters in July, winds that blows flagsticks sideways, 3 irons from 150 yards and all the guys named Bjorn you can shake a stick at.

But the last few years especially, The Open Championship has provided some of most intriguing story lines in golf history. First, it was Greg Norman turning back the clocks and playing in the final group at Royal Birkdale in 2008. He eventually finished in a tie for third, six shots behind Padraig Harrington, who walked away with his second consecutive Claret Jug.

In 2009, Tom Watson outdid Norman performance — he almost won a major at the age of 59 at Turnberry (darn you, Stewart Cink).

Then, as if to almost make up for those near-amazing stories, The Open gave us consecutive feel-good winners: first the emotional triumph of Darren Clarke in 2011, which came out of nowhere. The next year, golf fans were treated to the re-emergence of Ernie Els, who won his first major championship in 10 years at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club.

It’s something the tournament has always found a way to do, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised. How about Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton winning consecutive Opens a decade ago? How about Paul Lawrie coming from 10 shots back in the final round after the leader had a Van De Velde-ian struggle on the final hole (wait, that WAS Van De Velde!).

I guess when you put golfers on a stage they are unfamiliar with, the unexpected can happen, and therefore we should expect the unexpected. And who better to pick a few potential random winners than someone who (shameless self promotion coming in 3-2-1) picked Justin Rose as the golfer without a major championship who was most likely to break through at Merion?

With that said, here are the long shots that I believe can win The Open this year at Muirfield:

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano

gonzalo

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano isn’t a household name in the U.S., but golf fans are beginning to take notice. If you don’t recognize his name, it’s probably because it appears on leaderboards in a shortened version —  “Fdez Castano.”

Fernandez-Castano has been on a lot of leaderboards lately, especially in big tournaments. His best results of 2013 so far? The U.S. Open, The Volvo Match Play Championship, the Accenture Match Play Championship, the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Masters. He finished in top-20 at all of them.

Fernandez-Castano has a a great resume in Europe, where he has six wins. At 32, he is in the traditional “golfing prime.” And it just seems right that someone other than Sergio Garcia will be the first Spaniard since Seve to win The Open.

Click here to see the full list of Open Championship odds.

Rickie Fowler

Rickie-Fowler-makes-a-charge-at-British-Open-TF7PQM6-x-large

Rickie is currently ranked 30th in the Official World Golf Rankings, so he may not reall qualify as “long shot.” But a golfer ranked 30th in the world is never really a “favorite,” especially Fowler, who has been dogged by questions about his ability to close out tournaments several times in his young career.

Fowler admittedly likes poor weather, and played college golf in windy Oklahoma (he went to Oklahoma State). In 2011, he played one of the best Open rounds in recent memory when he shot a 2-under 68 on Saturday at Royal St. George’s in some of the worst weather imaginable. He also went 3-1 at the 2007 Walker Cup played at Royal County Down, another place known to have some pretty stern winds.

He’s having a solid season so far with four top 10’s and third-place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he fell short of Tiger Woods. He’s also coming off a top 10 at his most recent major, the U.S. Open. If you are willing to call Fowler a long shot, then he’s at the top of the list. He has the skills and toughness to win The Open, and I can’t slip the feeling that he’s due for something big.

Justin Leonard

Justin Leonard

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that an older golfer who has won The Open will find a way to contend again. And when that golfer is a guy who isn’t a long driver of the ball, hasn’t won in five years and hasn’t made the cut in The Open since 2010, that’s all the more reason to pick him in my book.

Justin Leonard in his heyday was a great wind player, and he contended in majors regularly with 11 top 10’s and six top 5’s. If fate is going to sprinkle magic pixie dust on someone to allow them to turn back the clock and compete, it should be Leonard because he has been there before and is playing well in 2013 — he’s missed only three cuts in 19 events.

Also, unlike other events, Leonard’s lack of distance might not really hurt if the course conditions are firm and fast as predicted. This is the long shot of long shots, but every year someone like Leonard seems to be hanging around the lead on Sunday.

David Lynn

David Lynn

Trivia question for you: Who finished second when Rory Mcilroy drubbed of the field at the 2012 PGA Championship? The answer, as you should have surmised by now, is David Lynn. Do you know what that means? If Rory McIlroy had switched to Nike clubs last July, Lynn would already be a major champion.

Lynn was the only player other than McIlroy to shoot consecutive rounds in the 60’s at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course on the weekend. He followed that up by joining the PGA Tour in 2013, and playing solid golf both stateside and back home on the European Tour.

His results have been mixed with some poor play of late, but he almost won the Wells Fargo Championship in May (he lost in a playoff to Derek Ernst). Lynn has two top 10’s and more than $1 million in earnings so far in 2013. While he has only one career win, the European Tour’s KLM Open in 2004, he’s proved in the last year that he has the game to compete with the world’s best wherever he tees it up.

Alexander Noren

alexander-noren_1476176c

For those of you not familiar with Alexander Noren, he’s a 30-year-old member of the European Tour, but he played college golf in the U.S. at the same windy school as Fowler.

Noren had success at this event last year, when he had his best finish in a major (he tied for ninth). That’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, of course, but Noren is coming into The Open on a hot streak. He has finished in the top 5 in his last two European Tour events, is one of the best putters on the European Tour, and is also a fairly good all-around player, hitting a lot of greens despite some problems with the driver this season.

Noren is currently fourth on the European Tour in stroke average, so this guy can play. He also has shown he can get it done, winning two events in the same season back in 2011. He strikes me as a guy who is a real force when he is hitting fairways. Will the weekend at Muirfield be magic for him?

Click here to see the full list of Open Championship odds.

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Jeff Singer was born and still resides in Montreal, Canada. Though it is a passion for him today, he wasn't a golfer until fairly recently in life. In his younger years Jeff played collegiate basketball and football and grew up hoping to play the latter professionally. Upon joining the workforce, Jeff picked up golf and currently plays at a private course in the Montreal area while working in marketing. He has been a member of GolfWRX since 2008

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1 Comment

  1. AV

    Jul 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    I’m a huge Alex Noren fan, but his last two tourneys have been MC x2. He looked very ragged at the Castle Stuart, so it’d be a surprise if he contended here.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: The best drill in golf (throwing the club)

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If you are struggling with weight shift, clearing your hips, or have issues freeing up your golf swing, then what you want to do is start chucking that golf club. No joke! In this podcast, we will explain how to properly throw the golf club from a safe area and the results will be absolutely transformational.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: A New No. 1 – How Justin Thomas overcame a poor putting performance

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In the final tuneup before the PGA Championship in San Francisco, many of the world’s best teed it up at Memphis’ TPC Southwind in the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational. The final day showcased a stacked leaderboard and plenty of volatility, but in the end, it was Justin Thomas who came from four back to win for the third time this year. This was a quick bounceback after a letdown at The Memorial just a few weeks ago. Winning on the PGA Tour certainly takes stellar play and, typically, a little luck like Thomas’ pulled drive on 15 that skirted off a cart path, over a bridge and into prime position for a late birdie. Had that tee ball found the hazard instead, this article would likely be about Brooks Koepka and his late charge.

Golf is a game of misses and taking advantage of good breaks. That is not to take away from JT’s week of stellar ball striking. He finished the week first in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and second in Strokes Gained Approach. That’s no surprise for the new number one in the world. What is surprising is how poorly Thomas putted throughout the week. It is extremely rare for a PGA Tour winner to lose strokes to the field with the putter, but that is exactly what Thomas did.

In Ways to Win, it is rare that we highlight Short Game as a differentiating factor for winners. That is typically because to excel in the short game, one has to miss quite a few greens. When you miss greens, it’s hard to score. However, Justin Thomas was able to consistently get himself out of difficult situations, minimize damage, and turn bogeys into pars throughout his four rounds.

If you want to be an elite player, you can’t do it with your short game alone. It sure comes in handy on those off days, though. Just how good was Thomas’ short game? He finished fourth for the week in Strokes Gained Around the Green and got up and down inside 75 yards more than 80 percent of the time (including several clutch up and downs late on Sunday). His touch was particularly crucial, given that his putter wasn’t really cooperating.

Again, it is very rare for a PGA Tour winner to lose strokes with the flatstick. Typically the winner is the best putter out of the best ball strikers, but not so this week. Thomas only three-putted twice for the week. However, he lost strokes to the field from three out of nine distance buckets that we analyzed using V1 Game’s putting breakdown.

In four other buckets, he was almost “net zero” in strokes gained with the putter. He only gained strokes with the putter from inside six feet. Making short putts is certainly a big key to golfing success. That is why short misses are highlighted in V1 Game’s post-round analysis: missing short putts is a quick way to compound errors. Thomas is not an elite putter by any means, but he is typically solid in the clutch.

V1 Game makes it easy to keep track of personal bests and track progress in a tournament. Any stat that the PGA Tour gives can be recreated with V1 Game. Here are some quick stats for Thomas’ week using V1 Game’s Personal Bests feature:

Total Score: 267
Best Round: 65
Worst Round: 70
Longest Drive: 347 yds
Longest Holeout: 28 ft
Most consecutive holes without a bogey: 24
Scrambling Streak: 9 in a row
Holes without a 3 putt: 20
Most birdies in a round: 6

Thomas certainly played well when it mattered, resisting the urge to look at a scoreboard throughout the final round and focusing on the job at hand. His patience paid off with his 13th victory in a young career. Short game play is a fantastic equalizer and a great tool for any golfer’s bag. However, Thomas really separates himself with ball striking.

The best way to improve your short game is to miss fewer greens, like JT. For most amateurs, short game practice should focus on eliminating mistakes, such as “two-chips” when you do miss the green. Once you can consistently get on the green and have a putt to get up and down, focus should shift to the long game. Tee to Green play is where the game’s best separate themselves from the weekend warriors.

V1 Game can help you with each of these items.

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On Spec

On Spec: Talking Kirkland wedge, LPGA Tour, and teased irons from TaylorMade & Mizuno

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In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the recently discovered Kirkland Signature wedges on the USGA Conforming list, as well as what recently spotted TaylorMade and Mizuno irons may have in store
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Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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