Picking the winner of The Open Championship is a frustratingly difficult exercise at the best of times, but this year it could be nigh-on impossible.
The reason for such uncertainty is that the British Open returns to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, with the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush in County Antrim set to stage golf’s oldest major.
Portrush is the only course to have ever hosted an Open Championship outside of England and Scotland. It was extensively redesigned in 2015, with a new seventh and eighth hole added.
As such, the 7,340-yard, par-71 course represents largely uncharted territory for most of the field.
It is thus no surprise to see two men who have insider knowledge of the course, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, as the two pre-tournament favorites at 8/1 and 10/1, respectively.
The Northern Irishman smashed the course record with a blistering 61 as a 16-year-old, while the world number one will be able to tap into some insider’s knowledge as his caddie, Ricky Elliott, is a Portrush native.
If the course has a novelty factor to it, the weather conditions could be just as unpredictable. Rain and howling winds are expected intermittently over the next four days.
The last 31 mayors have been won by players ranked in the top-50 in the world, but could The Open buck the trend and deliver a surprise winner?
Having already analyzed the main favorites here, Newsweek has picked some players who could play the role of dark horse this weekend.
The Swede is quietly coming into form at the right time, finishing in the top 10 at the U.S. Open and cracking the top-five at the Scottish Open last weekend. Stenson’s odds have shortened from 50/1 earlier this week to 28/1 at the time of writing, proof that he’s one of the men to watch at Portrush.
An Open winner in 2016, the Swede also has a second- and two third-place finishes in the oldest major of all. Don’t rule him out.
The 41-year-old has been solid in the first three majors of the season, finishing tied for 12th at the Masters, tied for eighth at the PGA Championship and tied for 16th at the U.S. Open. Eight of his 17 starts on the PGA Tour this season have resulted in top-10 finishes and at 30/1 he represents a good shot.
Cantlay, who finished tied for 12th at his Open debut last year, deserves a look on accounts of form and statistics. The 27-year-old won the Memorial Tournament last month, after finishing tied for ninth at the Masters and tied for third at the PGA Championship.
On the PGA Tour, he ranks second in strokes gained total, fourth in strokes gained tee-to-green and, more importantly, first in scrambling.
Portrush has fewest bunkers of any course on The Open rota, but they can be just as unforgivable. At 33/1 Cantlay could be a great outside bet for this week.
At 60/1, the Spaniard is firmly in dark horse territory but deserves to be considered. He finished second at the 2012 Irish Open at Portrush and while parts of the course have changed since, it does suggest he was comfortable here.
More importantly, he’s finished tied for third, tied for fourth and tied for ninth in his last three starts on the European tour.
Odds of 66/1 are particularly intriguing for a player who won the Scottish Open last week. The Austrian has never finished higher than 64th at The Open—his best finish in a major is tied for 15th at the PGA Championship in 2014—but is in great form and worth a look for those hunting a long shot.