Written by Brandon Hill - DF Insider on July 15, 2018

The third major is finally upon us. After a couple weeks away from exciting golf, the field in golf is locked and loaded once again. With big news this week regarding the PGA Tour schedule, the Open will actually become the final major of the season next year as the PGA Championship moves to May and THE PLAYERS returns to it’s May time-slot. Those are just a couple of the changes made to a revamped PGA Tour schedule, as the Tour announced on July 10th.

Next year is poised to be a very exciting year in golf. Here are a few highlights about what to expect…

2018-2019 PGA Tour Schedule Changes
-Detroit adds its first PGA Tour event, as the Rocket Mortgage Classic will be played the last week of June
-The 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities will transition from a PGA Tour Champions event to a PGA Tour event, played in the first week of July
-The whole Tour will head to the Caribbean in February, as the Puerto Rico Open returns to the Tour schedule following its cancellation due to Hurricane Maria devastation, the same week as the WGC-Mexico Championship
-THE PLAYERS moves from May to March (3/11-3/17 next year)
-The PGA Championship moves from August to May
-No more Bridgestone Country Club on the Tour schedule, as TPC Southwind claims the final WGC event. The FedEx St. Jude Classic, the former usual tune-up for the following week’s US Open, becomes the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational
-The new tune-up for the US Open will be the RBC Canadian Open, moving from late July to early June
-The FedExCup Playoffs has decreased from 4 events to 3. Instead of being played in September, The Playoffs will now be played following the Wyndham in August. THE NORTHERN TRUST will rotate between the NYC-area and TPC Boston as the first event. The BMW Championship and TOUR Championship will follow the next two weeks. No more Deutsche Bank Championship…damn, I was just getting used to spelling that, too
-The Houston Open and A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier (Greenbrier Classic) will move to the fall, and won’t be played until technically the 2019-2020 season due to that

The main takeaways – four straight months of major golf, and the Playoffs won’t draggggg for 5 weeks like it used to. Now it will feel truly as intense as playoffs in other sports. Good on ya, PGA Tour. We approve.

PGA Tour commish, Jay Monahan, put it this way: “It’s been our stated objective for several years to create better sequencing of our tournaments that golf fans around the world can engage in from start to finish. And by concluding at the end of August, the FedExCup Playoffs no longer have the challenge of sharing the stage with college and professional football. This will enhance the visibility of the FedExCup Playoffs and overall fan engagement with the PGA TOUR and the game as a whole.”

Funny that he actually referenced college football and NFL interference in ratings and interest in his official press release. But….so true. The PGA Tour will now be an exciting summer sport to watch. Want to sit in front of the TV and nap through a boring PGA Tour schedule to beat the heat? No more, old timers – now you’ll have to tune into MLB as the summer drags on to get your afternoon nap.

Carnoustie Preview
Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We still have two major champions to crown before we start looking forward to the Masters…well, now THE PLAYERS. We start right here this week in Carnoustie – deemed Car-nasty. If you remember 1999, you can think back to Jean Van de Velde sitting on the 18th tee, ahead by 3 strokes and about to etch his name in the French golf history books. A cluster of screw ups would ensue, along with Van de Velde wading in calf-high water in the burn considering actually trying to hit his ball out. He would have to drain a testy 6-footer to force a playoff, but would lose to Scotland’s own, Paul Lawrie. Geniunely my first golf memory.

In 2007, the story was a bit less sickening. In fact, Irishman Padraig Harrington edged Sergio Garcia in an exciting playoff to win the first leg of his back-to-back Open Championships. The next year was played at Royal Birkdale, where coincidentally last year’s Open was played. It would be one hell of a story if Jordan Spieth can repeat at these two courses like Harrington.

But sorry, Jordan – we don’t see that happening. Instead, we expect another beloved American to take home the Claret Jug this year. Before we get into just who, here are some key stats to look for in your research for the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie (Par 71, 7,402 yards)…

Key Stats
Driving Accuracy/Fairways Gained: If there is one storyline that has been rampant throughout players’ Twitters and pre-tournament pictures of the course, it’s that Car-nasty looks brown af – and that means that this place is DRY. Expect balls to be rolling like they are bouncing on concrete on these fairways. Long bombers will gain an advantage, but accurate drivers of the golf ball will get the most advantage from this dynamic
Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling: Since the course has been dried out from a hot and dry summer in Scotland, it will be the R&A’s duty to make the greens somewhat receptive. This was the USGA’s fatal flaw in the preparation of Shinnecock at last month’s US Open. However, the R&A can set up links courses MUCH better than the USGA, and this should pose no problem. Carnoustie will still play like any other links course that we are used to seeing at an Open, which means balls will slide off greens with ease. Look for players who are able to chip well and scramble from bunkers to handle the links course well (per usual)
Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: Just like any other major tournament, it will be the guys who are simply striking the ball the best right now who will have their names at the top of the leaderboard come Sunday. SG: Tee-to-Green covers just that, as it determines who is striking the ball the best from tee box all the way to the greens. Putting will of course be important, but it will be those who avoid trouble and hit their targets who will be getting the best opportunities at birdies. The guys who have the best SG: Tee-to-Green numbers at the end of the week will be at the top of the leaderboard as always, so for preparation’s sake, check how players are trending in this category lately

Alright, enough chatting. Let’s get into our two Must-Haves for the 2018 Open Championship…

Must-Have #1: Rickie Fowler
I’m going to go ahead and prepare you all. Get ready for Rickie to eclipse the monkey on his back, to self-actualize himself as a legend in golf, to solidify himself in the history books as one of the best American golfers of all time, to achieve a career-long goal – to become a major champion.

We firmly believe this is the one. The former #1 ranked amateur for 37 straight weeks in 2007 and 2008, the former 4th- and currently 7th-ranked player in the world, the former PLAYERS champion, the 4-time PGA Tour winner, former Scottish Open winner, and 8-time major top-5’er…if anyone in the world of golf is due, no doubt it is this man. He was the runner-up at this year’s Masters, in fact having been runner-up at every major except the PGA Championship (he does have a T3 and T5 at that one, though) And he has what it takes to take down a course such as Carnoustie.

Just this past week, he was sitting in the top-10 Thursday-Sunday at the Scottish Open, the typical links tune-up for the Open. Last year, Matt Kuchar finished T4th at the Scottish Open a week before his near-win at Royal Birkdale (runner-up to Jordan Spieth in an epic duel). Rickie shot 64-66-68-68 at the Par 70 Gullane GC this week, a course that was similarly dried out like Carnoustie. Rickie showcased all week that he is in peak form and ready for the challenge Carnoustie has to offer, exemplified by his 458-yard drive at the 10th in Saturday’s 3rd round.

Fowler has good history at Gullane GC. He won the Scottish Open in 2015 at Gullane, a week before he would go on to finish T30th at St. Andrews. The 2015 and 2018 Scottish Opens weren’t the only times that Rickie has shown that he plays links courses well, as he finished T9th at the Scottish Open in 2016 as well. He was also the runner-up to Rory McIlroy alongside Sergio Garcia at Royal Liverpool in 2014, and has made 7/8 cuts in his career at the Open, including his past four.

Car-nasty is quite unlike most other Open venues, however. This place is dry, and will play very similar to Shinnecock and last year’s Royal Birkdale. He finished T20th and T22nd at those two courses, respectively, even amidst a 3rd-round 84 at Shinnecock the day that the USGA admitted that “the course got away from [them].” Had the course played fairly, Rickie may have won his first major just a few weeks ago, as he shot 73-69-65 in the three other rounds. A third-round 73 would have won the US Open for Rick.

After a runner-up at the Masters and having experienced Shinnecock’s B.S., Rickie will be gunning for the Jug this week – you better believe it. To boot, the other course that will play similarly to this week’s Carnoustie is the US Open course from last year – Erin Hills. Fowler finished T5th there.

On top of all that, Fowler has played solidly in his past four PGA Tour tournaments. He finished T14th at the Fort Worth Invitational, T8th at the Memorial Tournament, T20th at the US Open as previously stated, and 12th at the Quicken Loans National just a few weeks ago.

Looking at stats, there is nothing that jumps out to us, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. When we compare him to the field over his past 24 rounds played in our key stats (according to FantasyNational.com), Rickie ranks 53rd in Fairways Gained, 10th in SG: Around-the-Green, and 36th in SG: Tee-to-Green. Nothing crazy good, but he is unique among the top guys in that he is consistently solid in each category. That consistency throughout his game is something you should take advantage of on DFS when you consider his price, 7th-highest on DraftKings ($9,700) and 9th-highest on FanDuel ($11,400). He has the 2nd-best Vegas odds to win, however, at +1600 along with McIlroy, Spieth, and Rose. DJ has the best odds at +1200. The reliability with Fowler to play well and compete is about as good as it gets in this field.

The one thing we know about Fowler is that he brings his A-game to the big tournaments. With 3 top-5’s in his past 5 past majors, and finishing in the top-25 in his past 6, Rickie is trending in the direction towards a victory. A T6th this past week in Scotland proved to us that he is gearing up to take on the links-style of Carnoustie, which just so happens to also be in Scotland. Tiger had his memories made in his signature Sunday red; it’s time Fowler has his made in his signature Sunday orange. Get those Pumas out, Jay-Z – it’s Rickie time.

Main Takeaway about Fowler
Rickie comes to Carnoustie on the tails of a T6th finish at the Scottish Open, where he was in contention all week and shot no worse than 2-under in any round. He has 3 top-5’s in the past 5 majors, including a runner-up finish to Patrick Reed at the 2018 Masters. He played great at Shinnecock except for the tumultuous Saturday that threw the entire tournament into chaos, somehow managing a top-25 (T20) even with an 84 in his third round. Rickie has made 7/8 cuts at the Open, and has 4 straight top-20’s on the PGA Tour heading into this one to go along with his Scottish Open top-10 finish. He won the 2015 Scottish Open, finished T9th at the 2016 Scottish Open, and was the runner-up at the Open in 2014. With four straight cuts made at the Open, Fowler is poised for his breakthrough week right here at Carnoustie.

Must-Have #2: Branden Grace
Grace is the classic lurker at major tournaments. He has 4 top-5’s dating back to the 2015 US Open, and notched another top-10 at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale just last year. If we learned one thing from his other top-10 major performances, it’s that he is no stranger to encoring them the very next year. After finishing T4th at Chambers Bay at the 2015 US Open, he finished T5th at Oakmont in 2016. And after his 3rd-place performance at Whistling Straights at the 2015 PGA Championship, he finished T4th the next year at Baltusrol.

Grace is very consistent at majors, making his past 8/9 cuts. Even better, out of his 7 visits to the Open, he has NEVER missed a cut. At the most famous Scottish golf course, St. Andrews in 2015, Grace finished T20th.

He has the ability to maintain a low ball flight, yet still hits it a good distance. That is the perfect combination for a links course, especially one like Carnoustie where the ball will run for miles on the dry fairways. Grace’s superb links play was displayed in his past 3 Scottish Open appearances. He was not in the field this past week, but finished T17th in 2015, T29th in 2016, and T15th last year.

But we have to be honest – none of that is really the reason we are so high on the South African. Okay – somewhat the major pedigree he carries and his performance at the correlating Birkdale last year (T6). But the real reason we love Grace is because this guy has been Mr. Cut Maker all year with 19/19 cuts made on the season. That’s just absurd. He is the only player in this field to make the cut in every tournament he has played (>2 tournaments).

Here are some of the highlights of his 2017-2018 season…
-7 top-25’s in 13 PGA Tour appearances
-4 top-25’s in 6 European Tour appearances
-1 win at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in November
-T24th at the Masters, T25 at the US Open
-T5th at the BMW PGA Championship
-T3rd at the AT&T Byron Nelson (links-style)

Before we just glance over that last one, let’s take a deeper look into his AT&T Byron Nelson finish in May. That was played at Trinity Forest in Dallas, Texas, a switch in the tournaments course from TPC Four Seasons. Trinity Forest plays uniquely on the PGA Tour as a links-style course, hence why a guy like Marc Leishman (another strong links player) finished ahead of him in 2nd. That week, Grace shot 66-68-69-62 on the Par 71. Boy, that is strong links play, folks.

To take the argument for Grace one step further, another course on the PGA Tour schedule that plays links-style is Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina, at the RBC Heritage. How has Grace fared there? Well, besides winning the tournament in 2016, he also finished T7th in 2015 and T11th in 2017. You want someone who is relatively cheap who is sure to make the cut AND contend at this Open? Branden Grace is easily your guy.

Main Takeaway about Grace
What is not to love about the 30-year-old South African? He finished T6th at the closest correlating course to Carnoustie at Royal Birkdale in last year’s edition of the Open. He has made 19/19 cuts on the season, the only player in the field to make 100% of his cuts (>2 tournaments). He finished in the top-25 at the Masters and US Open this year. He plays the Scottish Open really well, and dominates the PGA Tour fields at links-style courses on the PGA Tour schedule (2018 AT&T Byron Nelson, RBC Heritage). He has 4 top-5’s at majors since 2015. Oh – and he has made 7/7 cuts at the Open. On top of all that, he’s not priced high at all. Lock. Him. In.

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