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Why The Open is still wide open with 18 holes left

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The Open at Royal St. George’s is not hurting for interesting storylines as it heads to the final round. There is Louis Oosthuizen, seemingly forever the runner-up holding another major championship lead. There is Jordan Spieth, hoping to end his four-year drought in majors. There is Collin Morikawa, who won the PGA Championship the first time he played it and now trying to do the same in his Open debut. And there are others in pursuit, some big names and some up-and-comers hoping to grab hold of the Claret Jug.

The reason Louis Oosthuizen wins is …?

Bob Harig: He hits his driver in play. For all the talk about Louis’ smooth swing his tee shots have hurt him in the past two majors when he had a chance to win. He shot a final-round 73 with a bogey at the 10th and a double at the 14th, finishing two strokes behind winner Phil Mickelson. Last month at the U.S. Open, tied with Jon Rahm, he pumped his tee shot into the canyon on the 17th leading to a bogey, then couldn’t find the fairway for a reasonable shot at the 18th green and an eagle opportunity he needed to tie. Get it in play and Louis can win his second major.

Michael Collins: Experience. When things start happening around him on Sunday, remembering what he did in 2010 to win will carry him. Tiger Woods talked about it at the Masters in 2019, feeling the nostalgia of “I’ve done this before, I can do this now.” Plenty of players will make runs at him, but they will come up short because Oosthuizen will stay loose and relaxed.

Mark Schlabach: The golf gods are fair. The South African has more than earned a chance to win a second major after so many near-misses over the past 11 years. It has been more than a decade since he won The Open at St. Andrews in 2010, and he has been runner-up in a major six times since then. That includes twice this year. He has to be consistent off the tee and hit fairways, which he didn’t do at Torrey Pines when Jon Rahm won. He was even worse off the tee in the final two rounds at the PGA Championship, where he tied for second behind Phil Mickelson. Keep the ball in the fairway, King Louis.

Tom VanHaaren: In the past, Oosthuizen hasn’t finished majors in strong fashion. Since 2019, he’s 37 under in the first two rounds at majors and 12 over par in the last two rounds. He had the second-best scoring total through the first two rounds of a major at The Open this week and now has the second-best total at The Open through 54 holes. He finished his third round at 1 under, bucking his trend of poor play on Saturday and Sunday.The Open is the only major he has won. He knows the type of patience and creativity it takes to win and he’s going to put his consistent play on display on Sunday to take home the Claret jug.

The reason Collin Morikawa wins is … ?

Harig: By making the key putts. It is the one aspect of his game that is not as strong as others. Morikawa has quickly taken to the links style, has learned the various intricacies well enough to be able to find fairways and hit greens. And he’s shown tremendous patience. He got off to a slow start Saturday but stayed steady and a couple of back-nine birdies put him right there with a chance to win his second major.

Collins: He’s an old soul in a young body. The way he played the 18th hole to finish the round on Saturday, hitting iron off the tee so he’d have a full wedge instead of a finesse shot is something a wily veteran would do. Morikawa showed at the PGA Championship — when he won in what was his debut in that event — age truly is just a number. Morikawa will play smarter than anyone else, hitting more greens than any others on top of the leaderboard and will use that to force his way past Louis to get the win.

Schlabach: Morikawa might have a few more wins than he already has if not for an unreliable putter, but that hasn’t been the case this week. He has putted exceptionally well this week at Royal St. George’s, where the greens aren’t as slick as they typically are on the PGA Tour. He’s even doing it while using two putting grips — a traditional one on longer putts and a saw grip on shorter ones. He is tied for sixth in average number of putts (1.54) through 54 holes, which is remarkably good for a guy who ranked 172nd in strokes gained putting among PGA Tour players entering this week. We know the iron play will be there. He won’t be bothered by nerves, even in a Sunday final pairing in his first start at The Open. Morikawa probably doesn’t even know that he would be the first player in the Masters era (since 1934) to win two major championships in their first eight starts.

VanHaaren: He’s one of the best ball-strikers and iron players in the world and putting the ball in the right spot is exactly what’s needed this whole week. He has hit some errant shots that have gotten him in trouble, but he has only had four bogeys all week and nothing worse than that. That consistency is going to help him on Sunday and push him past Oosthuizen. It’s strange to say Morikawa has the experience to handle the pressure on Sunday since this is only his eighth major start, but he can handle it and has the iron play to put himself on top at the end.

The reason Jordan Spieth wins is …?

Harig: He doesn’t make the back-breaking mistakes like he did at the 17th and 18th holes on Saturday. The one on 18 was especially egregious, as Spieth had a reasonable birdie opportunity that he turned into a three-putt bogey. You hope the putting demons are not back, as he took 32 putts on the round and spent a good bit of time on the practice putting green afterward. Spieth could also stand to hit a few more greens, as his 12 on Saturday was his worst of the week.

Collins: He plays Jordan Spieth golf and hits it all over the map. He’ll find a way to hit greens from places others have nightmares about. Then, to stick a dagger in the heart of the other players, Spieth makes a couple 35- and 40-footers, one for eagle, two for par saves that carry him to victory. All the while, his stats say he should’ve lost by 12 shots and the “shots gained anything” people cannot wrap their heads around it all.

Schlabach: He forgets what happened on the final two holes of the third round, when back-to-back bogeys cost him a chance to be right on Oosthuizen’s tail. Instead, he’ll be three shots back on Sunday. Great note from ESPN Stats & Information: Four of the previous eight champions of The Open came from at least shot shots back in the final round to win. If he clears his head, he’ll have the confidence and game to do it again on Sunday.

VanHaaren: Golf is about feel sometimes, and it just feels like Spieth is going to win something big soon. He’s so close, has worked on his swing and the mental side of his game to put himself in position to win several times over the past six, seven months. I would love to throw out some stats and technical reasons, but sometimes it’s about feel — and it feels like it’ll happen soon. He’s three shots off the lead heading in to Sunday and in the last eight Opens, the winner of the tournament has overcome a three-shot deficit after 54 holes four times.

Which non-major winner on the leaderboard do you like the most?

Harig: Corey Conners. Ranked 38th in the world, the Canadian is known for his ball-striking ability. He stayed steady Saturday, making nine straight pars to open his round before four birdies on the back nine. He’s coming off of two missed cuts, but he tied for eighth at the Masters and showed some form at the PGA. He’s been getting better in the big tournaments and has held firm this week.

Collins: None of the above. This, for me, is a situation where I don’t trust any of the non-major winners within six shots of the lead. The problem is not only the shots, but the major winners that are also in that mix. So, if you gave me $20 and said you want me to go bet it on a non-major winner within six shots of the lead going into Sunday, I’ll take the money and use it to buy a couple pints just to watch a former major winner take the title.

Schlabach: Corey Conners is one of the better ball-strikers on tour and it’s showing again at The Open. The Canadian leads the field in approach play, hitting 81.48 percent of the greens in regulation. Plus, he was so accurate off the tee on Saturday, which led to a bogey-free round of 4-under 66. He probably won’t catch the leaders, but it’s time to recognize that he has played very well in the majors lately. He tied for 10th and eighth in the past two Masters and tied for 17th at the PGA Championship. He’s staring down another top 10 at The Open.

VanHaaren: The only non-major winner I could see having a shot is Scottie Scheffler. He’s four shots back right now, which seems daunting given who’s above him, but it doesn’t seem impossible. Looking at the leaderboard, I just don’t think I would trust anyone else to light the course up so much that they could overcome a decent-sized deficit. Unless the weather takes a turn for the worse and makes the conditions impossible, I think Scheffler is the only one that makes sense to me.

Harig: Koepka. Johnson has been off for a couple of months, barely contending since winning the Saudi International. He missed cuts at the Masters and PGA and has shown only bits of the form that carried him to the No. 1 ranking last fall. Koepka usually thrives in these situations and he put himself in great position with a 66 on Friday. But just two birdies on Saturday and four bogeys left him well back.

Collins: Koepka. But it was karma that bit him. He decided to take a spot next to Bryson DeChamebeau when he warmed up before his round as DeChambeau was putting in work after he finished. Brooks had been playing well in majors and will need a really good Sunday just for a backdoor top 5, but it was still disappointing to see his ball-striking not what it should be right now. I don’t know anyone that expected big things from DJ this week.

Schlabach: Koepka was probably more surprising, but DJ continues to disappoint at majors. Since winning the pandemic-delayed Masters in November, his game has been a mystery. He had five bogeys and two birdies while carding a 3-over 73 on Saturday. He still might be the No. 1 player in the world, but he probably won’t have a top 10 at a major this year. He missed the cut at both the Masters and PGA Championship and tied for 19th at the U.S. Open.

VanHaaren: I was surprised by Koepka. He only had two birdies in his third round after eight in his second round. I picked him to win and thought he was going to put together an entire week of good golf, but this round took the train of the tracks. He has been known for being able to close out majors, but that mantra might be slipping as he hasn’t been able to finish strong and close one out since 2019. He finished T-4 at the U.S. Open and T-2 at the PGA Championship, so I really thought those tournaments would motivate him to go out and win one of the two majors he hasn’t won yet.

How far is too far back?

Harig: Those players 7 under par and better still have a chance. I think 6 under is too much because there are eight players to pass, and it’s tough to see all of the top three — Oosthuizen, Morikawa and Spieth — faltering. But even the players at 7 under and 8 under par need a lot to happen — a low round coupled with some indifferent play from the three at the top.

Collins: I’d say six shots is the furthest back you can be — and even that number is a stretch. But … someone teeing it up early at 6 under who gets in the house with a 64 to get to 12 under and then some wild weather shows up … (shoulder shrug). That kind of weather is NOT in the forecast, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen If everything stays as-is, five shots would be where the “miracle” will live.

Schlabach: I’m guessing anyone outside of four shots is probably out of it, with the way Morikawaka, Spieth and Oosthuizen are playing. But Jon Rahm has played exceptionally well when it mattered most this year — he is 14 under in the final rounds of majors. If Rahm can make some noise early, Oosthuizen might get a little nervous with the big Spaniard trying to chase him down again.

VanHaaren: I mentioned above that the winner of the past eight Opens has come back from three shots back after 54 holes four times. With the players at the top of the leaderboard, I really think five shots is too far off. You have Oosthuizen, Morikawa and Spieth all in prime position. I can’t imagine all three of them blowing a lead over someone that’s sitting five shots back. Out of the group that’s currently 7 under, I could only see Rahm trying to make a push, but even that seems too much to overcome. Scottie Scheffler, at 8 under, even seems like a stretch but not out of the question. I just have to imagine the winner comes from the top 3.

Who wins?

Harig: Spieth was understandably steaming after his round, letting some key shots get away with bogeys at the last two holes. But he’s played nicely, staying in play off the tee and hitting a good number of greens. I like his chances if he figured out those putting issues during a long session on the practice green after Saturday’s round. I’m going with a four major title for Spieth.

Collins: Who I’m rooting for and who I’m picking are two different people. I’m not jinxing the guy I’m rooting for. Colin Morikawa looks just like the guy who won the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park. Coming down the stretch of that tournament he hit quality shot after quality shot and made putts. I don’t see that changing Sunday and when he will play almost mistake-free golf. He will be the “Champion Golfer of the Year.”

Schlabach: I picked Spieth to win earlier this week, so I’ll stick with him. Morikawa and Oosthuizen are going to be difficult to beat, but for all of Oosthuizen’s heartbreaking runner-up finishes, Spieth might have been through even more pain the past four years. It’s time for him to win another major, too.

VanHaaren: I said that golf is about feel, and I just feel like Morikawa is going to take this thing home. He’s so consistent, he’s such a good iron player, he rarely falters and he’s only one shot back. If he wins, it will be the fastest any player has gotten two major wins since 1934 — this is only Morikawa’s eighth career major start. I think the winner comes from the top three, but Morikawa is what my gut says.



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