146th Open Championship tees off early Thursday morning

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The 146th Open Championship tees off early Thursday morning at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England to continue one of the most prestigious and grand sporting events in the world.

Ever since the very first Open in 1860, bettors have been analyzing who would win and throwing their quid down for action, so let’s keep with the tradition and get it started.

As always, before I make my wagers I enlist the help of Las Vegas’ premiere golf oddsmaker, the Westgate Superbook’s Jeff Sherman, who tells me there are plenty of live long shots to consider.

“I really think this thing is wide-open and it’s part of the reason why I moved Dustin Johnson from the 10-to-1 favorite up to 12-1 along with Jordan Spieth,” Sherman said

This Open really is wide open. Let’s take a look at what some of the best have been doing lately.

Rory McIlroy (15/1) is in poor form as he missed the cut in his last two tournaments – Irish and Scottish Open – on courses he knew very well. Johnson, the world’s No. 1, has failed to make it to the weekend in his last two majors.

Defending Open champion Henrik Stenson (25/1) has slipped to seventh in the world rankings and missed the cut of both majors this season. Jason Day (20/1), the world’s No. 6, has just two top-10s all year.

Yes, the best golfers in the world aren’t very sharp right now and they won’t only be playing against themselves mentally and the course itself, but also the weather, which adds to the wide-open theme.

“The fairways are flat and narrow, but I don’t necessarily think the long hitters will have an advantage,” Sherman said. “I think weather, in particular the winds, are going to play a major role in who wins. I’m expecting the sharp action on odds to win and matchups to come on Wednesday when the weather conditions will be better known and the tee times have been set. Some golfers are going to get optimum tee times while others will be hurt by theirs. It’s the luck of the draw.”

The early forecast for Southport shows wet conditions with Merseyside winds coming off the Irish Sea at up to 21 mph. It’s going to take some skill to win, but also a lot of luck, which is the perfect equation to catch a longshot. But let’s start with one of the best candidates among the favorites.

“It’s hard to dismiss Jon Rahm with the way he’s playing and coming off an impressive Irish Open win,” Sherman said.

The Spaniard, who has dropped from 20-1 down to 12-1, ran away with the Irish Open two weeks ago by six strokes over Englishman Matthew Southgate. Rahm missed the cut in the U.S. Open, but definitely appears back on track and now has seven top-five finishes (two wins) in 15 starts this season, which has bumped him to the world’s No. 8 ranked golfer. Those are big numbers for a guy who played at Arizona State last year.

If thinking about Southgate, he’s listed at 250-1. Before last week’s runner-up, his best finish was fourth in last year’s Irish Open and then went on to finish a respectable 12th in the British Open.

The last true Englishman to win the Open was Nick Faldo in 1992. However, it should be noted Darren Clarke (2011) and McIlroy (2014) have United Kingdom flags flying above their lands in Northern Ireland, but those six counties are still Irish, not English.

Another former Sun Devil is 2013 Open Champion Phil Mickelson. He finished second last season and has been a popular bet, moving the odds down from 40-1 to 30-1. But it’s hard to accept odds on Phil. The better choice at the same odds is Englishman Paul Casey, the world’s No. 16, who finished tied for fifth in the Travelers Championship three weeks ago. His best Open finish was third in 2010. Incidentally, Casey also golfed for Arizona State.

The home course advantage might be one of the better angles to look at before checking on weather conditions. That would put Southport native Tommy Fleetwood on the map and his odds have reflected his home course love, dropping from 40-1 to 20-1. He grew up playing on the course and the 26-year-old is playing the best golf of his career.

“He just had his best finish in a major in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills (fourth) and his confidence has really grown since then,” said Sherman. “He finished sixth in the BMW, won at France and was 10th in the Irish Open.”

Another Englishman to consider is Ian Poulter (60/1) who played some of his best golf of the year at the Scottish Open where he was tied for the lead after three rounds. He finished tied for ninth. The last time the Open was held at Royal Birkdale in 2008, he was runner-up behind Irishman Padraig Harrington who won the Open for the second straight year. It still remains Poulter’s best finish in a major and he knows the course well.

Harrington shot a 66 Sunday in the Scottish Open and finished tied for fourth. That forced me to make a small wager as a fan, feeling it might not be such a bad investment at 125-1. Harrington is ranked No. 169 and was having an awful year until playing well over the weekend. His last win was the Portugal Masters last season.

Another decent look is Rafael Cabrera-Bello at 100-1 who comes off a Scottish Open win thanks to shooting a 64 on the final round. It was the second straight week a Spaniard has won on the European Tour. Seve Ballesteros was the last Spaniard to win the Open Championship in 1988; he did it three times in his career.

If staying with the Spanish theme, we can’t forget Masters champion Sergio Garcia (15/1) who is ranked No. 5 in the world. He finished tied for second three weeks in the BMW International Open. His best Open finish was second twice (2007 and 2014).

Sherman says Ryan Fox at 250-1 might have a good run. The New Zealander finished tied for fourth in the recent Scottish Open.

So let’s do a quick recap of what I’ve thrown some quid on this week: Rahm (12/1), Fleetwood (20/1), Casey (30/1), Poulter (60/1), Harrington (125/1), Cabrera-Bello (125/1) and Fox (250/1)

What the sportsbooks like about the British Open is the early start times back here in the States.

“The shelf-life of our daily updated odds is definitely better than the other majors,” Sherman said. “After each round we should have updated numbers up by 1 p.m.”

Props will be posted Tuesday at the Westgate.

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