Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2021 British Open Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks, provide their one and done strategy for the event from Royal St. George’s. Plus, (at 5:53) Tim Andercust joins to give his CURSED picks of the week.
2021 British Open: Field
156 Players | Top 70 & Ties Make The Cut
First Tee: Thursday, July 15
Defending Champion: Shane Lowry
Even with all the current international travel considerations, the 2021 British Open will still have the maximum complement of a 156-player field at Royal St. George’s, along with the added benefit of the old cut line rules. When the PGA TOUR matched the European Tour style of Top 65 players (and ties) after 36 holes, the British Open and PGA Championship stood pat and kept it at Top 70 and ties. That may not seem like a big change from the outside looking in, but it means at least 45% of the field will see the weekend (opposed to 42%), and those extra five spots may be enough to push the cut line to a more favorable number if you’re sweating some guys close to the number.
All of the top qualified players will not be in attendance, though. Obviously, Tiger Woods remains working on his injury rehab, but Si WOOOO Kim and Sungjae Im decided to pass on The Open in lieu of focusing on the Olympics in a few weeks. Yes, that seems odd, but if Im or Kim can medal in Tokyo, they’ll be officially exempt from their two-year mandatory South Korean military service. That seems like a sensible trade-off. To me, at least. Kevin Na announced just before the beginning of the John Deere Classic that he would be taking a pass as well. Na pulling out is how Martin Kaymer got into the field. Finally (hopefully), due to a close-contact COVID situation, Bubba Watson revealed Sunday morning, he too would be skipping the year’s final major championship. Andddddddd... The WDs keep piling up: Masters champ Hideki Matsuyama, Matthew Wolff, Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore and Louis de Jager are all OUT of thew tournament.
Despite being across an ocean and, you’d think, more difficult to get all the proper equipment in place, the British Open provides the best TV coverage of all the majors. If you want to find the streams, The Masters is the clear winner in the department — and no, The Open app isn’t nearly as good. But, in terms of actual coverage on your television, Golf Channel and NBC will be on the air to begin coverage at 1:30 a.m. ET on Thursday morning and run through the final group opening the course. So, unlike most golf tournaments, we’ll actually get to see everyone play. If they decide to show them, that is. I believe every year, I write “It’s [whatever year], this should exist for every event,” and it’s now 2021 and we’re still not close whatsoever.
Whether you’re approaching the 2021 British Open from a DraftKings or wagering perspective or one of those pools where you pick one golfer from each block, beyond researching the stats and utilizing the tools on Fantasy National (a must, if you care about winning, btw), scouting the weather will be imperative. No event’s results are influenced more by wind and rain than The Open; we’ve witnessed entire waves of golfers have their Claret Jug dreams shattered because they drew the short straw while the players who tackled the course five hours earlier saw optimal scoring conditions. Just scan the leaderboard from the 2016 British Open.
Problem is, getting an accurate weather report is less accurate than the normal FAKE NEWS weather reports when the course is located directly on the sea. This is the wind tower located closest to the course, which is located about 200 meters from the northern part of the Straight of Dover. While it will be the best guide, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good guide. With the forecast seeming to change every six hours or so, the longer you can hold off building DraftKings lineups and placing bets, hopefully, the more reliable the weather forecasting. If you’re planning on playing multiple rosters this week, stacking tee times is the prudent move. Even if you take both sides blindly and hope to catch some weather luck.
Even micro tee stacking — grouping players together in one- or two-hour intervals — may actually be something to consider this week. Although a favorable weather window may reveal itself, having it hold up over the course of the entire first two days may not happen, so targeting the groups of players in a relatively short window should ensure all your players stand to benefit (or get killed) by the same weather. Researchers believe microdosing your tee stacks may benefit the mind, but it just hasn’t been studied to the point where we have definitive conclusions … yet.
2021 British Open: Key Stats
Strokes Gained: Short Game
Strokes Gained Approach
Proximity Gained 175-200 Yards
Mayo’s Key Stats powered by FantasyNational.com
2021 British Open: Course
Course: Royal St. George’s GC
Weather: Sandwich Bay Wind Tower
2021 British Open: Past Winners
2019 Shane Lowry -15 (Royal Portrush)
2018 Francesco Molinari -8 (Carnoustie)
2017 Jordan Spieth -12 (Royal Birkdale)
2016: Henrik Stenson -20 (Royal Troon)
2015 Zach Johnson -15 (St. Andrews)
2014 Rory McIlroy -17 (Royal Liverpool)
2021 British Open: Notes
It’s been a decade since Darren Clarke fought through the wind and rain, still with a cig in hand, mind you, to be named Champion Golfer of the Year at Royal St. Georges. It was his 20th Open Championship appearance, and it was worth the wait to claim victory at a venue that screams “Open Championship” maybe more than any other.
The Old Course at St. Andrews is the likely answer to “What’s the most famous course in The Open rotation?” and I couldn’t disagree. St. Andrews has already hosted this major more than any other course, and next year’s stop will make it 30 times since 1873. Add in the signature holes (with their nicknames), a list of winners which includes Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and John Daly and you can see where the notoriety comes from. It’s tough for any course to compete with that. St. Andrews is St. Andrews, not necessarily The British Open. It’s a standalone and I would contest it’s not the course that pops in your mind when you think of The Open.
Maybe I’m an outlier in that regard, but when I think of The Open I think coastal winds, rolling dunes and fescue high enough to dwarf Jason Kokrak’s mini putter. That’s Royal St. George’s. It’s like someone threw a helmet on the course in its infancy; there’s nary a flat spot to be found. The bunkers are deep enough to house three levels of underground parking. And, the deep stuff? It’s death with the wrong lie. Oh, and don’t forget to have rain gear ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. If not, you’re going to have a bad time.
Royal St. George’s isn’t long, yet may be the most difficult of The Open rotation venues. In the past 20 years, there have been three times where the field has hit fewer than 56% of greens in regulation at an Open Championship. Two of those occurrences were the two times it was held at this venue (2002, 2011). That’s crazy for a course that hovers close to 7,200 yards. Then there’re those bunkers. Having a great sand game, you’d think, would be a YUGE advantage this week. But it really isn’t. Per Justin Ray, the field got up and down out of the bunkers at Royal St George’s just 34% of the time at the 2011 Open. They’re just too difficult, almost the equivalent of a penalty stroke at times. Ben Curtis and Clarke won by simply avoiding them. They only hit into only four greenside bunkers a piece all week in their wins.
Rory McIlroy has said, “It’s just one of those golf courses where, if you get aggressive with it, you can end up looking very silly.” And while there are numerous, potentially drivable par 4s if the wind is gusting in the proper direction, going for the green from the tee may be far more penalizing than beneficial with those Goldberg Bunkers: Traps of death.
Unlike most majors, where being shorter off the tee means the average to tiny tappers almost have to play perfect golf to win, this course is up for grabs across the skill set spectrum. Mainly because of the random variables in play. Like any British Open, if the elements remain benign, Bryson, Rahm and Rory are just going to go insane and try and pin stalk from the tee but keeping the elements at bay at this location never seems to happen.
The fairways are comprised of wild undulations, as are the greens and the fescue lingering just off the fairways may be death if the ball lands the wrong way. Fortunately, if the ball manages to land in the fairway off the tee, it won’t necessarily carry into the long stuff in 2021:
“The fairways are slightly wider and we’ve tried to make it so if you hit the fairway, you should hang in to the semi rough worst case, not into thick rough.” — Paul Larsen, course manager at Royal St George’s.
There is a level of creativity needed to avoid disaster. And since Royal St. George’s isn’t played by the pros all that often, it may come down to which players can improvise the best in real-time. Do they have the guts to aim off the fairway at a giant hill green side, knowing the longer grass is going to knock it down enough to keep it hole-high, but still trickle down and make it to the green? Players with bounties of links experience have an advantage in that area. It’s not necessary, but it will most certainly help. It’s really a tactical layout in that sense.
Stats and skills are obviously important, but there have been a lot of telling trends at the British Open in the past decade, lead-in form being a primary indicator. Two of the past seven Champion Golfers won their last start prior to hoisting the Claret Jug. Four of the past seven have a win in one of their two lead-in events to the British Open. Five of the past seven have a win in one of the previous five starts. The only outliers have been Zach Johnson and Shane Lowry, both of whom had three top-10 finishes in their past five starts entering play.
Maybe most telling, all seven champions each had a top-10 finish at the British Open within the past five years before their win.
Using these parameters, either a win or three top-10 finishes in their previous five starts, that leaves just: Brooks Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. Jordan Spieth just misses out on qualifying both ways. Rahm isn’t there because T11 was his best Open finish (2019).
2021 British Open: Trends
Obviously, these are more fun to look at than to deploy as actual indicators, but hot play entering The Open should be weighted significantly when finalizing your picks. And, like at the U.S. Open, being familiar with R&A course setups is valuable, even if the venues are completely different.
Players with Three Top 10 finishes in the last five Open Championships
Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka
Players with at least two Top 20 finishes the past three Opens
Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy. Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Francesco Molinari, Erik Van Rooyen, Matt Kuchar, Alex Noren, Xander Schauffele and Charley Hoffman
Players who have made the cut in every appearance the past five years (minimum three starts)
Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka, Alex Noren, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Danny Willett, Xander Schauffele and Lee Westwood. Patrick Cantlay, Erik Van Rooyen and Harris English are all two-for-two in cuts made over that five-year period.
Champion Golfers of the Year
The last eight Champion Golfers of the Year Open winners have finished top 30 in one of their two prior majors, with seven of them finishing top 35 in the major played most recently prior to their Open win.
Most Strokes Gained: Total the Past Five Years at the Open Championship
Jordan Spieth (+50.81), Henrik Stenson (+49.81), Zach Johnson (+35.51), Justin Rose (+34.51), and Rory McIlroy (+34.76). Next Five: Tony Finau, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari, Phil Mickelson.
2021 British Open Picks
Jordan Spieth (+2050/$9,700)
Emerging from the haze of his electric early-season run, culminating with a win at the Valero, Spieth has continued his amazing consistency with far less fanfare. Since that win, Spieth has played six events. He’s gained with his driver, irons and around the green in all six, with three top 10s and no finish worse than T30 (PGA Championship when he lost 2.2 strokes to the field on the greens). Overall, since his missed cut at the Farmers in January, he’s made all the cut in all 12 of his starts, picked up a win, seven top 10s and 10 top 20s. That’s quite the stretch. Weirdly, since his victory, the thing that likely sticks out in people’s minds is the Sunday loss to Jason Kokrak at Colonial when he entered the day a heavy favorite.
Granted, between Rahm’s run, Phil’s win and Bryson vs. Brooks, a bunch of back-door top 10s and a run at a B-Level event from Spieth isn’t exactly headline news. However, Royal St. George’s is a tremendous opportunity for him to claim his fourth major. His tee to green game has been immaculate, as stated, and we know how hot the putter can run when it’s going well, but it’s the aforementioned creativity that others simply don’t possess that will be the determining factor. When the ball is lodged on a downslope, half in mud and the announcers calm there’s no way anyone can get this inside 20 feet, Spieth will. At least, everyone watching at home anticipates that’s he’s actually going to scare the hole and stop it in the three-foot circle. We’ve just seen it so many times.
While he doesn’t have a ton of links experience, it’s never really mattered at the British Open. Spieth has played this event seven times, he’s never missed a cut, and has a win along with another two top 10s in the past five tournaments. And since he outlasted Matt Kuchar in 2017, this is far and away the best he’s looked on the course.
Branden Grace (+6600/$7,200)
At a tournament that has historically been very kind to South Africans, Grace is shaping up to be one of the passel of potential picks you can make from the country. He may not be the best one overall, but he’s certainly the best price of the bunch. Grace has made 11 of his past 12 cuts, picked up a win in Puerto Rico and entered in his best ball-striking form in years. And the majors have been somewhat kind to him this year. He led all players Tee to Green at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines a month ago en route to a T7 and entered the final round in the third-to-last group at the PGA Championship, starting just four strokes behind Phil Mickelson. A final-round 78 dropped him to T38 for the week.
Grace has plenty of links experience, including a win at Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and has proven himself over the last decade on difficult courses and in inclement conditions. It doesn’t hurt he owns the lowest Open Championship/major single round in history — 62 in the third round at Royal Birkdale in 2017 — either.
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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was a finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
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