Who is your pick to win and sleeper for the 146th British Open at Royal Birkdale?
Josh Sens: Friends keep telling me that Sergio will be too distracted by his July wedding to put in a good showing, and I keep telling them that Sergio has the money to hire a wedding planner. Even in his woe-is-me days, the British Open always seemed like his best chance at a major. Now, more than ever, this tees up sweetly for him. As for a sleeper, can Lee Westwood finally put himself in contention and go on to seal the deal? My head says no but my heart says yes.
Josh Berhow: Ball-striking and managing the course will be the key at Royal Birkdale, and one player who excels in both of those categories is Jordan Spieth, who is due for major No. 3. He’s coming off a win at the Travelers and has planned carefully for this week, taking off a couple of weeks since his victory (and skipping the John Deere). I’ll give him the slight nod over Hideki Matsuyama. As for a sleeper, I’ll take Ian Poulter, who has played well as of late. And if he is ever going to bag a major, why not an Open in England?
Sean Zak: I’ll go with the local boy in Tommy Fleetwood, who grew up in Southport. He’s a solid driver of the ball and a phenomenal ball-striker. Besides being hot all summer, that bodes well for keeping it out of trouble at Birkdale. I couldn’t believe how easy he made golf look at Erin Hills. If that translates, he’ll top 10 it, surely. As for my sleeper, I like Bill Haas’ game to match with what Birkdale requires. He showed just how far straight driving and efficient ball-striking can take you at Erin Hills. He just didn’t have the firepower to hang with Koepka (like pretty much everyone else). Birkdale will beg for straight driving and award an above-average ball-striker. If this Open is like most (and unlike last year’s two-man birdie-fest), I expect Haas’ consistency to favor him against the field.
Jeff Ritter: Rory is rusty. Spieth is streaky. Day is MIA. DJ is hungover after celebrating with his buddy Koepka post-Open. Sergio is finalizing wedding-table centerpieces. Add it all up, and we’re heading for another first-time major champion. My winner and sleeper are one and the same: Patrick Reed has been simmering all year and is too talented to be majorless much longer. Thanks to the Gleneagles Ryder Cup, we know he can thrive in front of a U.K. crowd. At Birkdale, he puts it all together, wins the jug, shushes the crowd, skips the NetJet and flies home to America on the back of a bald eagle.
Michael Bamberger: Justin Rose. Loves the course. More hungry after Masters near-win and Olympic gold. Course that requires it all. Sleeper: Stewart Cink.
Alan Shipnuck: Winner: Spieth. Sleeper: Adam Hadwin.
Jessica Marksbury: Does the defending champion (in terms of venue) count as a sleeper? How about 45-year-old Padraig Harrington, who had a great run at the Scottish Open last week? As for a favorite, now that Sergio has his major, I’m adopting Rickie as my new hope project. He’s knocking on the door, likes links golf and generally plays well in bad weather. Could be his week!
David DeNunzio: Favorite: Rickie Fowler continues the run of feel-good first-time major winners in 2017. He’s a nine-way shotmaker, never seems to mind the weather and comes to Birkdale firing on all cylinders (3rd in total driving, 4th in mid-range approach shots and 3rd in strokes gained: putting). Sleeper: Sergio Garcia. Pundits are selling El Nino short, based on his pending nuptials and the improbable notion that he can capture two majors within the span of three months when it took nearly 20 years to bag one. O’Meara went Green Jacket-Claret Jug in 1998, with Birkdale hosting. I see a trend.
Marika Washchyshyn: Winner: Hopping on the Fowler Train to remove him from the BPTNWAM list. He will take his Erin Hills Sunday stumble as motivation to finally get the job done, and is a great wind and rainy weather player. I like that combination at Birkdale. Sleeper: How about young Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, a potential home-crowd favorite? Last year’s European Tour champion has two top-5s this season abroad and was low amateur at the 2013 Open at Muirfield. He’s been steadily rising ever since.