Welcome to the Golf Digest Tournament Predictor. Each week we'll pit a machine's tournament forecast against our expert's picks. This week: the Open Championship.
Last Week Recap: Neither the professor or our expert had Bryson DeChambeau as the John Deere Classic winner. Professor Lou Riccio had two top-5 picks in Wesley Bryan (T-3) and Zach Johnson (T-5), but just one other player in the top 20 (Charles Howell III). The Golf Digest expert logged four top-12 selections in Steve Stricker (T-5), Daniel Berger (T-5), Brian Harman (T-10), and Chad Campbell (T-12), with CH3 rounding out five top-20 picks.
This Week: The claret jug returns to Royal Birkdale for the first time since 2008. Compared to other venues in the Open rota, Birkdale's fairways are of the flatter variety, subtracting the bad-break bounces often seen at links golf and providing easier second shots than one would find at Carnoustie or Muirfield. Not to say the course is a cake walk: with surrounding dunes, long grass and heather, tee-ball accuracy is key in Southport. And though the Open Championship's average winning score the past three years is 17 under, the last two Birkdale victors did not finish in the red.
Professor's Explanation: Clearly the Model has picked the “best” players in the world based on their overall historical data. But are they playing well enough now? Several are nowhere near their historical level of play. I’m somewhat tempted to propose the second ten the Model picks as a more interesting bunch, including Paul Casey, Daniel Berger, Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, and Matt Kuchar.
But the Model is the Model. I stand with those ten predictions.
Also worthy of note, former “Champion Players of the Year”, Zach Johnson and Phil Michelson are outside the Model’s top 20, and Sergio, a perennial favorite, is predicted outside the top 40.
Expert Analysis: That's certainly a lot of chalk: nine of the Professor's picks are in the top 11 in world rankings. Adam Scott is the low man at No. 15. Reminds me when the president would televise his NCAA tournament picks, invariably ending with all No. 1 seeds in the Final Four.
Conversely, the upshot of picking a lineup of all-stars is it's hard to dispute. But dammit, we'll do our best.
Due to it's unique set-up, the style of play and capricious weather, momentum is not necessarily rewarded at the Open compared to its major brethren. In that same breath, it's hard to place much conviction in Rory McIlroy, missing three of his last four cuts. He's enjoyed past success at the Open, and though he hates playing in bad weather, his scores actually reflect favorably in such conditions. But -- be it lingering injuries, issues with the assimilation to TaylorMade equipment or putting woes -- the four-time major winner has not looked like the dominant Rory seen just last fall. We'd keep him out of your lineup.
Same goes with Jason Day. He didn't make the weekend at Erin Hills or TPC River Highlands, and the premium placed on keeping the ball in the fairway is not conducive to the Aussie's game (150th in driving accuracy). Given the price tag and odds tagged to the 29-year-old, the juice isn't worth the squeeze.
As for Scott, we're assuming the Professor is operating under the assumption the 2013 Masters champ is dusting off his long putter and following the leads of Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron. With the anchored stroke, Scott had four consecutive top 10s at the Open. Without it at Royal Troon, he finished T-43. Coupled with his putting issues as of late, Scott would need an aberrational week with the flatstick to be in the mix come Sunday.
Rafa Cabrera Bello
Expert Explanation: Poulter is a bit of a wild card -- he earned an invite via qualifier -- but he finished runner-up at Birkdale in 2008. Coupled with his iron work (sixth on tour in strokes gained: approach), he's a formidable dark horse.
The pick we tussled with the most is Fleetwood. Yes, he's coming in hot (top 10s in his last four tournaments, including a win at the Open de France and fourth-place finish at Erin Hills) and it's hard not to root for the hometown storyline (he used to sneak on Birkdale as a kid), but whenever there's universal buzz for a player outside the top 10 -- remember the Tyrrell Hatton push at Augusta this spring? -- it tends to backfire. Yet Fleetwood's game has all the makings of an Open champ, and with the entire town behind him, we're convinced he's worth the wager.
If you're flaunting the prospects of Spieth, Fowler and Garcia for their iron work, Matsuyama warrants mention as well (eighth in GIR). More importantly, his shaky, borderline faulty stroke (181st in strokes gained: putting!) should be somewhat neutralized by Birkdale's slower greens. If you're wondering when Japan will get its first major championship, this could be the week.