Favorites, sleepers, and where to bet $100

The Claret Jug awaits the winner of the British Open. (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

The Claret Jug awaits the winner of the British Open. (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

Get some sleep, set the alarm and put on the coffee, it’s time for the British Open … and that means it’s time for another golf roundtable, featuring Yahoo Sports senior writer Jay Busbee and Yahoo Sports fantasy impresario Scott Pianowski. Topics today: Which players to chase and which to fade, the impact of weather on the tournament, and whether the British Open is the best major of them all. Let’s begin!

BUSBEE: Scott, it’s the final major of the year. The Open Championship or, as our American readers seem to prefer, the British Open. Windswept links, sideways rain, and temperatures that can drop from balmy to frigid in an hour’s time. It’s always one of the most memorable weeks of the year, and not just because we have to get the coffee and Red Bull going before the sun comes up. Where do you slot the British in your power ranking of golf’s four majors?

PIANOWSKI: I love the British Open, and at one point in time, I might have said it was my favorite major. It’s not the case anymore, but that’s more because I’ve learned to appreciate other things more. And maybe waking up early to watch glory’s last shot (I’m still getting used to the fresh cadence of majors) has me a little cranky.

There’s one other unavoidable theme — Open Championships are defined by the weather, distinctly different than any other major. When the wind doesn’t defend these tracks, guys can go awfully low. I’m still of the thought that a major should never even make it to 10-under, but I give this week. It’s already rained once this week, might rain again. The greens will soften. You’ll need to make birdies here.

BUSBEE: The only thing that defines a cut-maker at the British Open more than the wind is the draw. Catch the right side of the draw and you can wheel your way to a low-60s score; walk into the teeth of the wind and you’ll be lucky to walk out below 80. Who do you favor in these kinds of unpredictable conditions?

PIANOWSKI: At so many Open Championships, I’m looking for the creative guy around the greens, the Cam Smith show we saw last year at St. Andrews. But as pro Michael Kim outlined this week, this event is likely to be more about the ball strikers. Hit the fairways, which are narrow (and definitely avoid the penal fairway bunkers), and be central on the greens, avoid the runoffs on the edges.

Tiger Woods famously kept driver in the bag when he won at Royal Liverpool back in 2006. Much like Tiger always cribbed off Jack’s sheet at Augusta, everyone should at least consider what Tiger did two decades ago. Rory McIlroy was at the peak of his powers when he demolished Hoylake in 2014, winning box-to-wire and taking a six-shot lead into the final round.

The greens aren’t that complex in the middle, and we talked about the course likely playing soft (it’s also lush and green — again look at Kim’s notes — in sharp contrast to the brown track Tiger took down). That’s sure to be a major equalizer for the mediocre putters, or anyone in a putting slump. It’s a perfect week for Scottie Scheffler, who’s been a ball-striking god but rolling away tournaments for weeks.

BUSBEE: Every year, the draw and the wind bite someone. The links are a cruel mistress. Who’s going to fall prey to the whims of Hoylake this year?

PIANOWSKI: I’m going to fade some of the nice guys, and it hurts my heart to do so.

Start with Rickie Fowler, the people’s choice. He ran T2 back here in 2014, though the final round was Rory’s victory lap. Last month’s U.S. Open near-miss was great theatre, and the win at Detroit was celebrated by all.

But there are journey wins and destination wins, and Rickie winning at Detroit felt like a destination win, a satiating win, a victory that you celebrate and savor — and lose a little sharpness from. Consider when Jason Day won in May; he hasn’t been heard from since. When your victories have been scarce, it’s difficult to keep your focus after a trophy lift. Fowler’s been too good this year to miss the cut, but I’d be surprised if he seriously contended.

Tony Finau might be just as nice as Rickie, but majors haven’t been his bag. In Finau’s last nine majors, he’s only gotten inside the Top 25 once, with nothing in the Top 10. The odds are never that long because Finau’s so popular, but if he won here, it would be out of thin air. I might even, gasp, put some jelly beans on Finau to miss the cut.

It’s astounding that Tommy Fleetwood still doesn’t have a PGA Tour victory. His playoff loss to Nick Taylor at the Canadian Open was my favorite non-major event of the year. Four glorious playoff holes, punctuated by Taylor’s bomb on the final, and then a national celebration. Canadian teams can’t lift the Stanley Cup these days, but at least Taylor gave Canada a glorious scrapbook moment.

It’s funny, every modern golf coach I ever consulted with punched up the videotape and tried to get me to swing like Fleetwood or Louis Oosthuizen, another glorious swinger with a light collection of trophies (though Louie did bag one major). Spoiler, I probably swing more like Mick Fleetwood than Tommy Fleetwood. Maybe something happens to Tommy on Sundays? He’s just 80th in final-round scoring. It’s asking too much for him to break through at a major. His first win likely waits for a less-intimidating event.

BUSBEE: We’ve got to talk about the big dogs, including You-Know-Who. How’s everyone’s favorite hard-luck four-time major winner going to fare this time around?

PIANOWSKI: We start with Rory McIlroy, fresh off his fast finish at the Scottish Open. The majors owe him one. He’s obviously won here. I’m getting a little tired of watching all the times he bombs one 337, then leaves a wedge outside of 20 feet, but the holes don’t fit that shape this week, anyway. McIlroy can win, as much as anyone can win, this week. His odds are also trampled. I’ll take Rory with my heart, not with my wallet.

Jon Rahm sneaks up on this major, which is weird to say, but he simply hasn’t played much lately. He’s made just six starts since the Masters win, including the missed cut at The Travelers. He did nothing at the PGA, and did a backdoor Top 10 at LACC, shooting 65 on Sunday. You’re guessing on his form. Rest or rust?

If you have to bet on a favorite, Scottie Scheffler makes a lot of sense. His 2023 results read like a misprint. Seven straight Top 5s, 18 straight Top 12s, the win at Phoenix, the win at The Players. He’s been striking the ball much better than anyone, and giving back much of that through a baffling putting slump. Well, good news, Texan, this is a lush and likely soft course that doesn’t have complicated greens. You can beat everyone tee to green and make it hold up.

I didn’t realize how much I missed Brooks Koekpa until this comeback started. Golf needs more bluntly honest voices. Koepka’s major page is a sea of green (wins) and yellow (Top 10s); he unapologetically aims at the big four every year and really doesn’t care for much else. So much of winning a major is not being afraid of the moment, not succumbing to stress when the pressure is highest. Koepka will never have that problem. Last year’s poor play can be written off to injuries and deflated confidence; he’s not the same guy now. You’ll see a lot of Koepka on Sunday. Brooks Was Here.

BUSBEE: All right, you’ve laid it all out for us. Time to put your money — or your delicious snacks — where your words are. You’ve got 100 … let’s say jelly beans to wager this time around. Where do they go?

PIANOWSKI: Do you want to have fun, or make a little money? If a small profit is what you seek, punch Shane Lowry at plus odds to finish Top 20. He’s got a strong Open Championship resume, including the win in 2019. And his game is sneaking into form: T16 at the Masters, T12 at the PGA, T20 at the U.S. Open, and a T12 at the Scottish Open last week. Playing well in a links tournament is about being okay with unfairness — once Tom Watson reconciled this, he became the best links player in the world. Nothing will shake the unflappable Lowry this week, and while I can’t pick him to necessarily win, I’ll bet him to show up on the board. Season to taste.

Let’s say 25 jelly beans on Lowry, Top 20. (Lowry is +115 for a Top 20 at BetMGM, and that includes a full payout even if he ties for the spot.) But I see that look in your eye. You’re like Mike Singletary. You want winners.

Let’s spend 25 jelly beans each on Scheffler (best ball striker in the world, putter might not matter so much this week, +750 at BetMGM), Viktor Hovland (becoming a made man in majors, ready to win one, +2000), and Koepka (four Top 10s at the British, so he knows what he’s doing here, +2000). If Rory wins, my wallet is empty, but my heart is full.

The British Open begins Thursday morning … very, very early Thursday morning. Line up your bets and enjoy the tournament!