Open Championship Preview by Levi Dunagan

Jordan Spieth
Credit: UPI/Kevin Dietsch

The Open Championship has long been one of my favorite tournaments of the PGA Tour season. I don’t know if it is because you can watch the tournament in your pajamas or if it’s because the Open features one of the most unique trophies in all of sports. The Claret Jug is awarded to the Open champion and it is truly an incredible trophy. The tournament has returned to St. Andrews, where it is typically played every five years, and there are a lot of storylines heading into 2015’s third major.

Will Jordan Spieth Win the Open Championship?

Make no mistake, this is the biggest headline in all of sports right now.  Sports fans could be witnessing something monumental if Jordan Spieth is able to win the Open Championship on Sunday. Spieth has already won the Masters and the U.S. Open this season. He will look to add his third major championship to his trophy case and is still only 21 years of age.

Spieth won last weekend at the John Deere Classic, surprising many when he opted to play in a tournament so soon prior to the Open. Spieth will have less time to get used to the course and adjust to the time difference in Scotland. Spieth, however, is having a sensational year so we probably shouldn’t question his decisions at this point.

I’ll make my prediction a little later on, however, it is worth noting that the Open Championship’s playoff format is a four-hole match. Spieth has five PGA Tour victories and he has won three of those in a playoff. Spieth certainly has the ability to make clutch putts and allows others to beat themselves (e.g. Dustin Johnson three-putting on 18 to lose the U.S. Open). Spieth has only played in two Open Championships and mustered only a T36 (2014) at best.

This season, Spieth is at the top of the PGA Tour in scoring average, rough proximity (how close his average approach shot lands when playing from the rough), putting average, putts per round, putting from 20-25′ feet (making a ridiculous 28.85%), and par 4 scoring average.

Will Tiger Woods Contend Over the Weekend?

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I have certainly been critical of Tiger’s decision to take on a swing change (or perhaps overhaul is a better word) this late in his career. Tiger has struggled because he no longer has a shot in his bag that he can rely on and he has been dreadful off the tee all year. He has hit only about 50% of his fairways and has played so few tournaments that his statistics are hardly ranked relative to other PGA Tour players.

Tiger’s run as one of the longer players on tour is over. He seems to be getting less and less accurate as he hits the ball shorter (which is highly unusual). Tiger’s averaging around 295 yards while taking driver off the tee this season, which would put him about 37th on tour in driving distance. He is by no means a short-hitter, but he is certainly removed from his days as one of the longest guys on tour, as proven by the fact that Tiger was amongst the 15 longest drivers on tour every year from 1997-2007. Tiger topped out in 2005 at around 316 yards.

What should this tell you?

Tiger is over 20 yards shorter off the tee in 2015 than he was in 2005 despite possessing one of the strongest physiques on the PGA Tour. Tiger, despite being more muscular, is not generating the same speed he once was. He has also developed a significant flaw in his swing, in which he squats down significantly over the ball just before impact. This causes him to have to “rise” out of the swing and results in his wayward tee shots.

I believe a lot of casual fans are optimistic about Tiger’s chances entering this week. He has historically played very well at St. Andrews and the folks at NIKE are pulling hard for him this week. Unfortunately, Tiger won’t be in contention on Sunday. I do, however, believe he will make the cut and should at least provide a few highlights on a course he knows very well.

Who Will Challenge Jordan Spieth?

Sergio Garcia

The Open Championship doesn’t seem to be prejudice against any particular type of player. The course conditions will determine what style of play will win the tournament. There is a strong likelihood that the course will play soft and slow. If that is the case, the players who have routinely used low-trajectory shots to run the ball up the course will have to make adjustments.

At this point, the players that I believe have the best chance of winning (besides Jordan Spieth) are Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, and Kevin Kisner.

Fowler just won the Scottish Open and the past five winners have all gone on to win the Open the following week. Fowler was horrible in the U.S. Open and I think he rebounds quite nicely. Unfortunately, Fowler will be amongst the worst dressed players in the field

Sergio Garcia finished second last year and has historically been his best in the last two majors of the year. He is still one of the best tee-to-green players in the world and if his streaky putter gets hot, he might find himself in a great position on Sunday. Garcia’s career has been filled with disappointments in majors, he has finished in the top-10 19 times (with four 2nd place finishes and 10 top-5 finishes). Garcia, 35, is still without a major and he hopes to finally get one this week.

Dustin Johnson will have to overcome a massively disappointing ending to the U.S. Open. He is the longest hitter on tour and could overpower St. Andrews. Johnson, like Garcia, is a talented player that can’t seem to get it done and win a major championship. Finally, Kevin Kisner has been great since the RBC Heritage in April. He has finished in the top-10 six times and has three 2nd place finishes. He also finished T12 at the U.S. Open.

The Winner of the Claret Jug Will Be Jordan Spieth

I was tempted to pick Garcia because I really believe that this is the major that he will win once he finally gets one. He always plays so well in the Open and the crowds are much warmer towards him there (Garcia is from Spain). I went with Spieth because, at this point, picking against him would defy logic.

Spieth has very little experience in Open Championship environments and I am worried a little about the pressure getting to him. He is probably the best putter in the game and that will prove to be the difference. I expect Spieth to win a tight tournament with lots of low scores being posted. The last three Open Championships at St. Andrews have yielded winning scores of -16 (Louis Oosthuizen in 2010), -14 (Tiger Woods in 2005), and -19 (Tiger Woods in 2000). I expect more of the same this week.

Jordan Spieth wins at -16 under par and continues his remarkable season.

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