Who will win The Open, 2021's final men's Major golf championship, at Royal St George's?
Today's Golfer's 2021 Major coverage is brought to you in association with TaylorMade.
We've crunched the numbers, looked into our crystal golf ball and used a bit of gut feel to identify who will lift the Claret Jug and become Champion Golfer of the Year golf on Sunday, July 18.
And, as Royal St George’s has a habit of throwing up off-the-radar winners, we've included all of the latest odds to help you decide who to back.
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Why should you follow our predictions? Well, of the last four Majors, our system has successfully predicted one winner (Rahm, US Open), a runner-up (Koepka, US PGA) and a fourth-placed finish (Justin Thomas, 2020 Masters). Then there was our bold prediction that Tiger Woods would win the 2019 Masters.
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For full disclosure, we also predicted Dustin Johnson would successfully defend his Green Jacket in 2021 and he missed the cut. But backing three out of our last four tips would've ensured you were in the money with an each-way bet, so read on!
Be wary backing the favourites
Before you start lumping money on big names like DJ and Rory, consider this – the favourite or second favourite has only won The Open once since 2007.
What’s more, the average odds of an Open winner are around 62/1, more than double the average at the oh-so-predictable Masters and US Open.
In 2011, then-World No.111 Darren Clarke was 125-1 to win at Royal St George’s, while Ben Curtis was a 300-1 shot in 2003. In other words, sticking a pound on a guy well down the rankings might not be a bad idea... Shaun Norris is currently World No.111
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A wise head on old shoulders
Maturity counts for a lot at The Open, more so than at any other Major. Since 2011, the average age of the Champion Golfer of the Year is 35.7 – higher than the US PGA Championship (27.7) US Open (27.8), and Masters (34.7).
In fact, there have only been five instances where a player in his 40s has won a Major during that time, and four of those have come at The Open. Among the 35-year-olds in this year's field? Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Brendon Todd.
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Good form and links experience are crucial
While eight of the last nine champions had won earlier in the calendar year, all of them had played in The Open at least four times before tasting victory – and had all recorded at least one top 10 in the tournament prior to their win.
That fact would rule out recent Major winners Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau.
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Length is not THAT important
Unlike the US Open, driving distance is not such a deciding factor on a links course. On average, the last 10 winners have ranked just 24th in driving distance for the week.
Of greater importance is your ability to scramble well and get up and down from around the green. In each of the last seven Opens, the champion has ranked inside the top seven for the week in scrambling. Darren Clarke was only ranked 51st (of 71 players) at Royal St George’s 10 years ago, but made up for it by hitting the second-most greens all week.
Webb Simpson currently leads the scrambling stats on the PGA Tour this season, followed by Patrick Cantlay and Ian Poulter.
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Good ball strikers always prosper
As with most Major Championships, the quality of a player’s iron play is perhaps the biggest determining factor in who comes out on top.
The last 10 champions have hit, on average, over 72 per cent of greens in regulation (GIR) and six of those players have ranked inside the top 12 for the week in GIR (Shane Lowry was top in 2019).
Of the five players on the PGA Tour averaging over 72 per cent in GIR this season, only three – Stewart Cink, Collin Morikawa and Jon Rahm – are in the field.
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A successful defence is a rarity
We're not saying Shane Lowry won't win The Open and keep the Claret Jug for a third year, but successful Open defences, certainly in the modern era, are rare.
Of the 148 Opens to be played, 21 have resulted in successful defences but 14 of those came in or before 1950 and 10 of those were before 1900. Only five players have retained the famous trophy since 1960 and only two have taken the Jug home for a second year since the turn of the century.
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The good news for Lowry, who is a 40/1 shot, is that the last man to do so was a fellow Irishman, Padraig Harrington, in 2008. Tiger Woods also achieved the feat in 2006.
Before that the last successful defence had been achieved by Tom Watson in 1983, 11 years after Lee Trevino had done so. Arnold Palmer went back-to-back in 1962, while Peter Thomson won The Open in three consecutive years from 1954-56.
Other players to have defended the title are Bobby Locke (1949, 1950), Walter Hagen (1928, 1929), Bobby Jones (1926, 1927), James Braid (1905, 1906), Harry Vardon (1898, 1899), John Henry Taylor (1894, 1895), Bob Ferguson (1880, 1881, 1882), Jamie Anderson (1877, 1878, 1879), Young Tom Morris (1868, 1869, 1870, 1871) and Old Tom Morris (1861, 1862).
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Our three picks to win The Open, are...
Jon Rahm – 9/1
Ok, it's not our bravest pick, and goes against our rationale of not backing the favourite, but Rahm rightly enters the week as both the bookies' favourite and our top pick and it's tough to see past him.
He's been in incredible form, showed a newfound maturity in bouncing back from the disappointment of having to withdraw while leading the Travelers Championship due to a positive Covid-19 test, and produced a US Open display that ranks alongside the very best.
The Spaniard loves links golf and has shown that he can play in windy conditions with two dominant performances in the Irish Open at Portstewart in 2017 and Lahinch in 2019.
He currently ranks inside the top five for strokes gained off the tee and tee to green this season, and while he hasn’t cracked the top 10 in an Open yet, the versatility of his game cannot be overlooked on a course which demands so much of you.
Add in his piercing ball flight, which could prove especially useful if the wind gets up (it often does on the Kent coast) and it's hard to argue against the World No.1 lifting back-to-back Majors.
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Matt Fitzpatrick -– 50/1
A patriotic pick perhaps, especially when you consider he’s never finished better than 20th in five Open appearances, although he did win the Silver Medal as leading amateur at the 2013 tournament at Muirfield. And Fitzpatrick has been quietly going about his business since winning the World Tour Championship in December, and has racked up five top 10s against big-name fields in 14 worldwide starts this year. He's also one of the players to have played all 12 rounds of the year's men's Majors to date.
As well as being one of the best putters on tour, he also ranks among the most accurate drivers and is unlikely to be as affected as other players if they do grow the rough up at Royal St George’s, as per The R&A’s request.
The thing which is often used against the 26-year-old is his lack of distance off the tee, but since this year’s Open course barely stretches past 7,000 yards, this might just be his best chance to upset the big guns.
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Sergio Garcia – 55/1
If you believe everything you read in this piece (which you really should!), Sergio ticks a lot of boxes as a 50/1, elite ball-striker hovering around the world’s top 50 and, at 41, he's among the older players in the field.
He’s never been a massively long hitter, but he has been in excellent form from tee to green and knows what it takes to contend in Open Championships. In 23 starts, he’s racked up 10 top 10s, including at Royal St George's in 2003 and 2011, as well as finishing runner-up to Padraig Harrington after a play-off at Carnoustie in 2007.
Of course, the putter will always determine Sergio’s fate, but Darren Clarke was struggling on the greens leading up to the 2011 Open and putted like Tiger in his pomp…
Who are the bookies' favourites to win The Open?
9/1 Jon Rahm
12/1 Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy
16/1 Brooks Koepka
18/1 Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele
20/1 Bryson DeChambeau
22/1 Justin Thomas
25/1 Louis Oosthuizen
28/1 Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland
33/1 Tyrrell Hatton, Patrick Cantlay
35/1 Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama
40/1 Tony Finau, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Reed, Shane Lowry
50/1 Adam Scott, Matt Fitzpatrick, Will Zalatoris, Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Smith
55/1 Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Daniel Berger
60/1 Branden Grace
66/1 Garrick Higgo, Jason Day, Webb Simpson, Marc Leishman, Robert MacIntyre, Christiaan Bezuidenhout
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70/1 Joaquin Niemann, Francesco Molinari
80/1 Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Harris English, Abraham Ancer, Sam Burns
100/1 Corey Conners, Martin Kaymer, Lucas Herbert
110/1 Matt Wallace, Gary Woodland, Ian Poulter, Guido Migliozzi, Alex Noren
125/1 Bernd Wiesberger, Matthew Wolff, Max Homa, Jason Kokrak, Billy Horschel, Thomas Pieters, Danny Willett, Brain Harman, Bubba Watson, Tom Lewis,
140/1 Matt Kuchar
150/1 Victor Perez, Richard Bland, Brandt Snedeker, Charl Schwartzel, Brandon Todd, Andy Sullivan, Charley Hoffman, Ryan Palmer, Stewart Cink, Erik van Rooyen, Matthias Schwab, Keegan Bradley, Kevin Streelman, Kevin Kisner, Jason Scrivener
160/1 Henrik Stenson
175/1 Rafael Cabrera Bello, Matt Jones, Padraig Harrington, Rasmus Hojgaard, Thorbjorn Olesen, Zach Johnson, Joost Luiten
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200/1 Cameron Champ, Emiliano Grillo, Eddie Pepperell, Kevin Na, Russell Knox, Ryan Fox
250/1 Dylan Frittelli, Adam Hadwin, Aaron Wise, Mackenzie Hughes, Joel Dahmen, Byeong-Hun an, Andrew Johnston, Justin Harding, Chez Reavie, Aaron Rai, Kurt Kitayama, Charles Howell, Graeme McDowell
275/1 Takumi Kanaya, Lucas Glover, Romain Langasque
300/1 Marcus Armitage, Paul Waring, Krame Kickok, Jimmy Walker, Keither Mitchell, Jorge Campillo, Shaun Norris, C T Pan, Jazz Janewattananond, Marcus Kinhult
350/1 Hao Tong Li, Benjamin Hebert, Matthew Jordan, Johannes Veerman
400/1 Matthias Schmid, Shugo Imahira, Daniel Hillier, Louis De Jager, Marcel Schneider
500/1 Darren Clarke, Jaco Ahlers, Ernie Els, Cole Hammer, Rikard Karlberg
600/1 Richard Mansell, Sam Bairstow
1000/1 Deyen Lawson, Connor Worsdall, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Jonathan Thomson, Paul Lawrie
1500/1 Harry Begg, Daniel Croft. Sam Forgan, Ben Hutchinson
2000/1 Nicholas Poppleton
* Odds correct as of 10.15am on July 5, 2021
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