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Major Preview – Top 15 Players to Watch

15 Players to Watch  at the Year’s 3rd Major

The 3rd major of the year is upon us and it’s hard to imagine that the season is winding its way down to the end. Golf’s oldest major championship returns to the Scottish seaside links of Carnoustie for this, its 147th playing.

Established in 1842 and originally designed by Allan Robertson with an assist from Scottish golf pioneer – and noted golf tee times commercial star – Old Tom Morris, Carnoustie is notorious for being the toughest course in the championship rota. Known as “The Beast,” and by many as “Carnasty,” the par 71 measures right around 7,400 yards and has produced a who’s who of past champions, from Henry Cotton and Ben Hogan to Gary Player, Tom Watson, and most recently Padraig Harrington who beat Sergio Garcia in a playoff to capture his first of three majors.

But arguably the most well-known championship contested at Carnoustie was in 1999 when France’s Jean van de Velde held a three-stroke lead going into the final hole, only to see it quickly evaporate after finding the famous Barry Burn on his third shot and carding a triple-bogey. He would ultimately go on to lose in a playoff to Paul Lawrie and have his name become synonymous in sports with a choke job.

As we look at the players to watch in the year’s third major, it’s important to remember that other factors tend to play a role in the outcome when playing on seaside, links golf courses. Luck is often a component, as well-struck shots can be victims of bad bounces along the firm, sandy turf, and conversely, poorly executed shots can receive a favorable bounce and lie.

The weather in Scotland can change in an instant, and the wind is sure to be influential, especially at Carnoustie. The ability to flight the ball low and control spin in the wind is crucial. Who can adapt and handle the harsh and changing conditions the best will set themselves up well for a chance on Sunday.

To do well around a links course, shot-shaping, imagination, patience, and yes, a bit of luck, are needed. Let’s take a look at 15 players who will try to seize on those characteristics and make a run at that little silver jug.

Dustin Johnson

DJ impressed during the first two rounds at the U.S. Open and looked primed to win his second major, but a cold putter cost him on the weekend and he finished two strokes behind the winner, Brooks Koepka. However, the world #1 has all of the shots needed to win on a links course and can keep the ball low which is ideal for the windy conditions he’s likely to see at Carnoustie. If he puts himself in position going into the weekend and can tidy up the putting, DJ may just be halfway to the career Grand Slam.

What’s in the Bag

 

Justin Rose

Coming off another strong showing in a major, Rosey has the complete game that travels and can win anywhere. However, that hasn’t always shown in his results at the year’s third major, as his lone top 5 (T4) performance came at Royal Birkdale in 1998 when he was just 17 years old and still an amateur. Since then, he has only one other top 10, but his scrambling and putting are tools that will make him formidable around Carnoustie.

What’s in the Bag

 

Rickie Fowler

 

Often saddled with the moniker of “best player not to win a major,” Rickie has nonetheless shown that he has the game to compete on links courses in windy conditions, with a 5th place finish in 2011 and 2nd place finish in 2014. However, with each successive major that passes, the pressure mounts on Rickie to finally break through and silence his critics. He’ll need four solid rounds on a course that’s as unforgiving as it is beautiful.

What’s in the Bag

 

Patrick Reed

There is no hotter major championship player right now than Patrick Reed. The winner of the year’s first major made a strong push on Sunday at the U.S. Open to try and earn back-to-back majors, before finally sputtering on the back 9 at Shinnecock. But Reed hasn’t fared as well when he crosses the Atlantic, missing two of four cuts at the third major with his best finish a T12. He’ll have to conquer the links style of play if he wants to be known as an all-around player.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: Ping G400 LST (10 degrees) Shaft: Aldila 70 Tour X
  • Fairway Wood: Nike VR Pro Ltd. Edition (15 degrees) Shaft: Aldila 80 Tour X
  • Irons: Callaway MB-1 (5-PW) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
  • Wedges: Artisan (51 & 56), Titleist Vokey SM5 (61) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
  • Putter: Odyssey White Hot Pro #3 
  • Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1

 

Tommy Fleetwood

World #10 Tommy Fleetwood has experienced a meteoric rise in the OWGR over the past year-and-a-half due in large part to three European Tour wins and performances like his Sunday 63 at Shinnecock, making him a popular pick at majors among golf fans. However, Tommy has missed three of four cuts at the third major and pulled out of this week’s Scottish Open to recover from a bug. But he does hold the course record at Carnoustie, 63, shot during the European Tour’s annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Those good memories and Tommy’s superior ball striking make him one to watch.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: TaylorMade M3 (8.5 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Kuro Kage 70TX
  • 3 Wood: Titleist 917F2 (15 degrees) Shaft: UST Mamiya ProForce VTS 7X
  • 5 Wood: Nike Vapor Fly (19 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana Blue 80TX
  • Irons: Nike VR Forged (4 iron), Nike VR Pro (5-9 iron) Shafts: Project X Rifle 6.5
  • Wedges: Callaway Mack Daddy Forged (48-09, 52-10, 56-10, 60-08) Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
  • Putter: Odyssey White Hot Pro #3 Grip: Super Stroke Mid Slim 2.0
  • Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

 

Brooks Koepka

The big hitter is not all bomb and gouge, as evidenced by back-to-back U.S. Open titles. Koepka, world #4, got his professional start on the European Tour and is familiar with links courses and what it takes to win on them. A major wrist injury forced him to miss much of this season, so he should be fresh and ready to compete at Carnoustie.

What’s in the Bag

 

Sergio Garcia

Before winning the Masters in 2017, Sergio had the unfortunate label of “best player not to have won a major.” Most fans thought that if he did win one, it would be at the third major of the year where he’s had a great deal of success, including a runner-up finish the last time it was played at Carnoustie. Sergio loves playing on links courses and almost always brings his “A game.” However, two missed cuts at this year’s majors is a cause for concern. But if he can get his game back on track anywhere, it’s sure to be in Great Britain.

What’s in the Bag

 

Jordan Spieth

The defending champion has shown he has what it takes to win around a links course, but his season hasn’t gone as planned, with his poor putting seemingly creeping into the rest of his game and affecting his mental stamina. Back-to-back missed cuts at the Memorial and U.S. Open don’t bode well entering this championship, but if he can rekindle the good vibes from last year, he could find himself in contention on Sunday.

What’s in the Bag

 

Jason Day

Day has the all-around game needed to win around Carnoustie. He’s played well this year, with two wins on tough tracks, showing he shouldn’t be overlooked at a beast like Carnoustie. However, he’s a high-ball player and if the wind is up, he’ll need to control his ball flight to contend.

What’s in the Bag

 

Justin Thomas

Thomas broke through for his first major at last year’s PGA Championship and proceeded to ascend to #1 in the world. Now, currently ranked 2nd, his confidence is at an all-time high and he looks ready to scoop up more major championship trophies. His track record at the year’s 3rd major is spotty at best, with a T53 and a MC, but it’s hard to imagine that shaking his psyche. JT’s game travels anywhere, so look for him to be on the leaderboards on the weekend.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: New Titleist TS2 or TS3 (8.5 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana BF 60TX
  • 3 Wood: Titleist 917F2 (15 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Blue 80TX
  • 5 Wood: Titleist 915 Fd (18 degrees) Shaft: Fujikura Motore Speeder VC 9.2 Tour Spec X
  • Irons: Titleist 718 AP2 (4 iron), Titleist 718 MB (5-9 irons) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
  • Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM5 (56-14F), Vokey SM6 (46-08F, 52-12F, 60-12K) Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue (46-60), Nippon N.S. Pro Modus 3 (60)
  • Putter: Scotty Cameron Circle T X5 Grip: SuperStroke Pistol GT Tour
  • Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

 

Tiger Woods

The questions that surrounded Tiger and his health at the beginning of the year have vanished and minus a missed cut at the U.S. Open, he’s strung together an impressive run of high finishes, including a T2 at the Valspar in March. He’s struggled with the flat stick recently, but a switch from his famous Scotty to a TaylorMade Ardmore putter saw significant improvement at the Quicken Loans, and his record around links courses is fantastic. If he can keep the momentum going with the putter and find the fairways around Carnoustie, Tiger’s comeback may be nearing its climactic finish.

What’s in the Bag

 

Rory McIlroy

Very few players can run away from the rest of the field as Rory can. The Northern Irishman is capable of putting on an exhibition, much the way he did at Congressional in 2011 when he won by eight shots to claim his first major. The 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year has seen his highs (a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational) and lows (a missed cut at the U.S. Open) this season, and struggled once again with the putter recently at the Irish Open where he found himself aimed too far left and starting putts on the wrong line. But if Rory can tweak a few parts of his game and have all cylinders firing, his name will be on the famous yellow leaderboard come Sunday.

What’s in the Bag

 

Marc Leishman

Ask pros who the most underrated Tour player is and many will say Marc Leishman. The Aussie has an all-around game that can compete anywhere. He also has a strong track record at this championship, narrowly losing to Zach Johnson in a playoff in 2015. If Leish can put together four solid rounds at Carnoustie, we may see his breakout performance and a guy who’s not so under the radar anymore.

What’s in the Bag

 

Louis Oosthuizen

Louis has struggled with his form this season, but the low-key South African tends to show up for major championships. He’s had success in this major before, winning in 2010 and losing in a playoff to Zach Johnson in 2015. Louis last tasted victory in 2016 at the ISPS Handa Perth International, and with just three top 5 finishes this season, he’s eager to pick up his second PGA Tour win playing a style of golf he’s quite comfortable with.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: Ping G (9 degrees) Shaft: Project X Even Flow
  • 5 Wood: Ping G (17.5 degrees) Shaft: Fujikura Motore Speeder VC 7.2 Tour Spec X
  • 7 Wood: Ping G400 (20.5 degrees) Shaft: Fujikura Motore Speeder VC 9.2 Tour Spec X
  • Irons: Ping iBlade (3-9) Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
  • Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (46-12SS, 50-12SS, 60-WS) Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 (46, 50, 60), True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 (46)
  • Putter: Ping PLD Grip: Ping Pistol
  • Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

 

Dark Horse – Russell Knox

As a native Scot, there’s no tournament or major that Knox covets more than this one. Showing great form with a recent win at a links course – Ballyliffin – in the Irish Open, Knox is eager to break through for a major win and in his home country as the icing on the cake. Look for Knox to creep up the leaderboard over the weekend and put himself in position to make a run on the back 9 on Sunday.

What’s in the Bag

Questionable to Play – Henrik Stenson 

Talk about a player who shows up for the 3rd Major of the year, Henrik Stenson captured the Claret Jug in 2016 and finished 2nd in 2013. He has a knack for links-style courses and is a favorite to be at the top of the leaderboard in the years next major. Henrik is typically a top-15 shoe-in on this list but he withdrew from last week’s Scottish Open due to an elbow injury and is questionable to play at the year’s third major.

What’s in the Bag

  • Driver: Callaway Rogue (9 degrees) Shaft: Project X HZRDUS 6.5 62
  • 3 Wood: Callaway Diablo Octane Tour (13 degrees) Shaft: Grafalloy Blue X-Flex
  • 3 Wood: Callaway Rogue Sub Zero (13.5 degrees) Shaft: Project X HZRDUS 6.5 62
  • 4 Wood: Callaway Rogue Sub Zero (16.5 degrees) Shaft: Oban Kiyoshi Tour Limited 60 grams 05-Flex
  • 5 Wood: Callaway Rogue Sub Zero (18 degrees) Shaft: Oban Kiyoshi Tour Limited 70 grams 05-Flex
  • Irons: Callaway Legacy Black (3-PW) Shafts: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 Tour120 X
  • Wedges: Callaway MD3 (46-08S), Callaway Mack Daddy Forged (50-10, 56-10, 60-08) Shafts: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 Tour120 X
  • Putter: Odyssey White Hot Pro #7 Grip: Garsen Max
  • Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1

 

Others Notables

Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Branden Grace, Tyrell Hatton, Zach Johnson and Matthew Fitzpatrick.