Golf’s final major of the year is upon us, and many story lines surround the prestigious event being played at the Lower Course of Baltusrol.
First and foremost, former world #1 Tiger Woods announced that he would not be in the field, as he is still recovering from back surgery that took place last September. This is the first time in Woods’ career that he has missed all four majors, and his future success on Tour remains in doubt as he continues to nurse his game back to greatness.
With the ever cloudy Tiger news out of the way, here is a look at the top contenders at Baltusrol as well as a sleeper pick of who could ultimately walk away on top on Sunday.
Many words can be used to describe Johnson’s 2016 campaign. None, however, will truly do it justice. He is having a Woods-esque season, highlighted by a break through maiden major victory at Oakmont last month, which was followed up by another trip to the winner’s circle just a week later among golf’s elite at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. America’s highest rated golfer ranks second on Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green, sits first in the FedEx Cup standings, and can truly compete at any venue. Johnson is the clear favorite this week, so it should come as no surprise if he snags his second major of the year.
The world number one has been overshadowed by a surging Dustin Johnson lately, but this does not at all mean that he should be counted out. The current holder of the Wanamaker Trophy has finished no worse than T27 in his last 13 outings, and has already tallied eight top tens in 2016, including victories at the PLAYERS Championship, WGC-Cadillac Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational. One thing Day will, however, need to do to be successful at Baltusrol is gain control of his driver as he has struggled to a disappointing 51% of fairways this season. While he’s faltered lately off-the-tee, the Australian makes up for it in a big way on the greens, ranking first on Tour in total putting. Ultimately, Day’s chance to retain the number one slot in the OWGR, and see his popular son, Dash, once again scamper across the green of the 72nd hole, will come down to his ability to find the fairway.
Could it finally be Sergio’s week to claim his first major? With four top fives in his last five outings, he’s certainly in the right form to do so. But sadly this could very well be the Spaniard’s last best shot at glory. Lucky for Garcia, however, Baltusrol sets up particularly well for a game that relies on tremendous ball striking. Currently sitting in the top 11 in both strokes gained on approaches and off the tee, Sergio is the ideal candidate to come away a major champion. It will ultimately come down to the world’s tenth-ranked golfer to remain composed emotionally and confident with the putter to claim victory in New Jersey though.
Woodland is my sleeper pick for the week. He is an affordable $6700 on DraftKings, and really is not getting the attention he deserves, seeing as the big-hitter has recorded top 25s in four of his last five outings. This includes a T12 at Royal Troon just two weeks ago, and a T4 at the Memorial Tournament just two months ago. The only thing missing from the world number 54’s game is a consistent putting stroke. With less than 30 putts in all four rounds at the Open Championship, however, Woodland seems to have regained the confidence necessary to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy.
DraftKings High-Risk High-Reward Lineup
With DraftKings offering their final Major Millionaire Maker of the year, its time to go big or go home. To do so, however, requires the risk of looking very dumb when the week is over. DFS players must take low-percentage players flying under the radar at serious value. With this goal in mind, and an absolute need to pick the winner, here is what I believe a winning lineup may look like.
$11,600 Dustin Johnson – Will likely be highly owned, but with his skill set and heavy odds of at least a top five showing you can’t afford to miss out on DJ this week.
$11,400 Rory McIlroy – Overshadowed by Day, and Johnson this week, McIlroy is really the guy I’m banking on to show up at Baltusrol this week. He’ll likely be owned far less than the other top four golfers in the OWGR, and coming off consecutive top fives he’s in optimal form to contend.
$7,300 Charl Schwartzel – No longer worried about a sudden change in clubs, Schwartzel is a steel at this value. I’m hoping many others won’t catch on, but the South African can do some serious damage.
$6,700 Gary Woodland – As I said before Woodland is my sleeper pick at Baltusrol. He is constantly pushed under the radar, and will likely be passed up by players more familiar with Bill Haas and Brandt Snedeker.
$6,700 Kevin Na – Similar to Woodland, Na has enjoyed a low-key successful year on Tour, including three straight finishes inside the top 27. He’s a good ball striker, and could easily rise in the ranks.
$6,100 Andy Sullivan – The fact that Andy Sullivan, the 35th ranked golfer in the world, is priced $500 less than John Daly is criminal to me. I haven’t seen many taking on Sullivan this week, but at this value, I don’t see how anyone could pass up on him, especially after six straight top 25s.
What To Watch For?
We could very well see another first-time major winner as we have for each of the last four majors. The most prominent golfer’s without a crowned jewel are the aging Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, and Steve Stricker. Don’t be shocked, though, if a guy like Justin Thomas, or J.B. Holmes come out of nowhere though.
Madison’s very own Steve Stricker will be competing in his second major of the year, and coming off three straight top 25s, including a solo fourth place finish at the Open Championship, the 49-year-old still has some gas left.
Phil Mickelson is sure to be the fan favorite at Baltusrol. He won here in 2005, can he do it again?
If you are not really into the golfing scene or just want someone to root for, be sure to look out for Andrew “Beef” Johnston. He gained some serious fandom at the Open Championship, and takes the game so light heartedly that he’s hard not to watch.
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