Why British Open Favorite Rory McIlroy Is Not Your Best Bet
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The most notable golf happening at Royal Portrush wasn’t when the long-forgotten Max Faulkner won the first British Open there in 1951. No, it came in 2005, when a 16-year-old phenom named Rory McIlroy electrified Northern Ireland with a 61 shot in qualifying for an amateur event.
That 61, still a course record, is one reason McIlroy is the odds favorite to win this week when the British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. The player from Northern Ireland winning the British Open title on home course? Too good to be true, right?
From a golf betting perspective, it might be. McIlroy has enjoyed a fantastic 2019, with top-10s in all but two of his 12 starts. His +900 odds to win the British (via 888 Sport) are a hair better than the +1000 of Brooks Koepka, the No. 1 player in the world. But that doesn’t mean McIlroy is the best bet this week. Here are three reasons to look elsewhere.
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It’s Not the Same Portrush
This isn’t the same course McIlroy ripped to shreds in 2005. In order to land the major, Royal Portrush had to be extensively renovated, both to make room for spectator areas and to improve what had been seen as weak finishing holes.
According to Golfweek, that involved building new 17th and 18th holes, completely redesigning the 7th and 8th, building a new green for the 10th and reshaping the course’s famed par-3 16th. Don’t be surprised if the public money influencing McIlroy’s odds is ignorant to the differences between 2005 and today.
Rory’s Major Slump
McIlroy won a pair of majors in 2014, raising his career total to four. He’s still waiting on No. 5. Although he’s had several close calls since—including a tie for second at the British in 2018 — he’s on the brink of going five consecutive years without a major.
For whatever reason, McIlroy is having trouble closing the deal when it counts most. No player was hotter entering the Masters, and he finished 21st. His results in majors remain strong, with eight top-10s in his last 15 starts. But coming close and winning are very different things.
A home-course major would seem to be a great thing, but in reality the pressure can be suffocating. We’ve seen that over and over, dating even back to Arnold Palmer at Oakmont in the 1962 U.S. Open, where he lost to Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. Colin Montgomerie was never a factor in two British Opens at Royal Troon, where he essentially grew up.
Maybe McIlroy is different, and better able to withstand the implied pressure playing at home can bring. But history indicates that’s very tough to do. The oddsmakers love McIlroy this week at Royal Portrush, but he’s not a teenager playing in a qualifier anymore.
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