British Open 2015: Who’s Hot Heading Into St. Andrews?

July 14, 2015

1. Jordan Spieth – 408 points

Despite being the first player since Tiger Woods in 2000 to secure four wins before the British Open, many will still wonder if his victory at the John Deere, followed by the long trip to Scotland and the six hour time change will impact Spieth’s performance at St. Andrews. Hogwash. The kid is just 21-years old, and his flight to Scotland was on a charter, so if he lost any sleep, it was caused by excitement over his win and not discomfort. Plus, with all the anticipation surrounding his bid to become the first player since Ben Hogan in 1950 to win the year’s first three majors, he’ll have enough adrenaline to last six weeks let alone six days. As for the Old Course itself, Spieth doesn’t boast the distance of some other likely contenders, but thanks to his velvet putting stroke, that shouldn’t be a problem.  With over 13,000 square feet of greens to contend with, players who can avoid three putts will rule and Spieth is currently T-9 in 3-putt avoidance this season.  He will also face several putts from distance, and he is currently T-5 in putts made from 15 to 20 feet and No. 1 in putts made from 20 to 25 feet. But all that aside, Spieth is now on the kind of roll we haven’t seen since Tiger Woods in his prime. He has absolutely no fear and is feeling like he can accomplish anything. That confidence will be his biggest asset as he looks to make history at the home of golf.

2. Danny Lee – 257.99 points

With a win and a T-3 in his last two starts, Lee is a combined 32-under so far in July. But when the 21-year old arrives in Scotland, he will encounter something he has never experienced: links golf. That alone won’t kill his chances — remember Ben Curtis had no links experience prior to winning in 2003 — but his lack of distance might. Unlike Spieth, Lee doesn’t quite have the putting stats — 12th in one putts, 35th in strokes gained putting and a worrisome 88th in 3-putt avoidance — to overcome the fact that he is one of the Tour’s shortest hitters.

3. Kevin Kisner – 226.33 points

Kisner had another solid week at the John Deere, but like Lee, he’s heading to St. Andrews with little Scottish golf experience. On the upside, he finished  T-4 at the McGladrey Classic in Sea Island, Georgia last year, a tourney that’s played on a wind-swept links course, so it seems he can adapt to harsh conditions. And while he may not hit it far, he does hit it straight, ranking 16th in driving accuracy. He’s also a good scrambler (11th) and lag putter (8th in 3-putt avoidance), but his biggest statistical advantage this week is that he ranks 5th in putts made from inside 10 feet.

4. Robert Streb – 205 points

Another hot youngster who will face a stiff learning curve at St. Andrews, Streb grew up in Oklahoma, now lives oceanside in Florida, and won last year’s McGladrey, so he understands how to play the wind. As for his overall game, he hits it a good distance off the tee, ranking T44 in driving distance, and is accurate from the fairway, ranking 15th in greens hit.  He’s also an above average putter at T-33 in 3-putt avoidance and 32nd in strokes gained on the greens. But all in, his lack of local knowledge may be his downfall, as learning the secrets of St. Andrews in six days or less is a mighty tall order.

5. Zach Johnson – 183.66 points

Coming off a 6th place finish at the Travelers and T-3 at the John Deere, Johnson looks to be in fine form heading to Scotland. But while he’s fared well at Muirfield — T-6 in 2013 — and Lytham — T-9 in 2012 — the same can’t be said of his loops at St. Andrews, where he finished T-76 in 2010 and missed the cut in 2005. Johnson’s precision game is just what the Old Course calls for, and he does hit a lot of greens. Of course, with 13,000 square feet of them, so will everyone else this week. Johnson ranks 94th in proximity to the hole, and despite being 25th in three putt avoidance, the flat stick is not his strong suit. That will make hoisting the Claret Jug a long shot, at best.

6. Dustin Johnson – 171.34 points

With his distance, Johnson has to be considered a favorite at St. Andrews. Not only can he reach both par 5s in two, if conditions are favorable, he also has a shot at driving the greens on four of the par 4s. But just like the rest of the field, he’ll have to master the lag putts and avoid three-jacks — obviously a major issue for him at Chambers Bay. If he hopes to contend, he’ll need to drain the 5 to 10 footers, but at a dismal 149th on Tour in putts of 4 to 8 feet, those nasty little knee knockers might once again prove his downfall.

7. Tony Finau – 168.32 points

His run of seven straight top-25 finishes came to an end with rounds of 67 and 72 and a missed cut at the Deere, but he’s still riding a great rookie season, earning over $1.6 million — and some well-deserved time off.

8. Brandt Snedeker – 160 points

Coming off a string of four straight top-10s, Snedeker took last week off to rest up for the season’s hectic finish and should be ready to go for his first Open at St. Andrews, a course that clearly plays to his strength: putting. Brandt is 5th in strokes gained putting and is T-14 when putting from inside 10 feet. He’s also 4th in scrambling and has enough pop to overpower the Old Course. If he can stand up to the conditions — and his experience says he can — he could be in the hunt come Sunday.

9. Bubba Watson – 155.67 points

Just like DJ, Watson has a big advantage at the Old Course thanks to his length, but his game just doesn’t seem to travel well, at least not to Europe. In six Open Championships, Watson has missed three cuts, including at St. Andrews in 2010, and never finished higher than 23rd. That’s a tough history to overcome on a course as steeped in it as the Royal and Ancient.

10. David Lingmerth – 147.01 points

Playing in just his third major and first Open Championship, St. Andrews will be a tough test for Lingmerth’s game. He does rank 17th in 3-putt avoidance, but the rest of his flat-stick stats reveal him to be an average putter at best. Without the length to compensate, the old Course could prove humbling.

Inside the rankings:

*Off the GOLFstats player rankings, we determine the hottest players based on the last nine weeks on the PGA Tour. Keys to the system:

*132 points for regular tour win. All finishers in top-50 get points via a declining scale.

*198 points for a win in WGC events and the Players Championship, 264 points for a major win.

*Points are lost for missed cuts, DQs or WDs: 10 for regular events, 15 for WGC and Players, 20 for majors

*All points get degraded 1/3 after weeks 4, 5 & 6, and by 2/3 for weeks 7, 8 & 9

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