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The Open Championship Round 1 matchups and 3-Ball picks from Matt MacKay. Find out which players to tail and fade during Thursday's opening round. Matt MacKay will help locate a few early winners at St. Andrews.


Historic St. Andrews golf course on the shores of Fife, Scotland, will be the site for the 150th edition of The Open Championship. It's the fourth and final major of the 2021-22 PGA Tour season, with plenty of challenges against a stacked field.

St. Andrews is hosting The Open Championship for the 30th time, by far the most of any other location. This links course is much more challenging to read than traditional courses stateside. The lack of visual cues creates added stress and difficulty, while the massive 30,000 square foot greens require exceptional putting, as they dwarf most other greens. Sand bunkers are designed more like sand fortresses, with brick walls and deep pits that constitute hazards in lieu of bodies of water.

It's a par 72 course but unique in that there are 14 par 4 holes, splitting two par 3s and two par 5s. This creates little relief and opportunity for birdies. Putters and irons must be robust and adaptable, as the frequent undulations in the fairway and double greens make undesirable lies. St. Andrew's stretches to 7,313 yards and its vast fairways and greens allow errant shots to still hit in regulation. The course bears its teeth as players approach the greens, so expect only the strongest chippers and putters to climb the leaderboard.

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SELECTION: RORY MCILROY (+135)(Bet $100 to win $135)

Contrary to popular belief, Xander Schauffele is a prime candidate to fade when betting Round 1 3-Ball formats this weekend. Not only is this Schauffele's debut at St. Andrews, but he usually starts slow, going +2 last week at the Genesis Scottish Open. It's a more challenging course this weekend but has a similar layout due to the links-style design, meaning Schauffele could be hovering around even after Round 1. Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy returns to St. Andrews for the first time in over a decade, where he finished T3 in 2010. The Irishman shot a 63 during his opening round, followed by an 80 in Round 2, before settling at seven-under-par across the final two days. Yes, it was a volatile scorecard, but McIlroy has improved aspects of his game to be a better player entering Thursday's opening round. McIlroy is ranked 8th in strokes gained putting and first overall in total strokes gained. However, he is built to dominate this intimidating links course right out of the gate.

Collin Morikawa is an intriguing prospect, especially considering he's the reigning Open Championship winner. However, it's important to note that the win came at Royal St. George's in England, a links course with different challenges. Morikawa has seven top-ten finishes this season, but a run of T55/T40/MC/T5/MC, which includes a missed cut at the Renaissance Club last weekend, signifies that Morikawa is not playing his most confident game right now. As a result, he's an easy fade for me despite the enticing +250 odds, particularly in the first round at one of the most challenging links courses in the world.


SELECTION: GARY WOODLAND (+170) (Bet $100 to win $170)

Sungjae Im struggled at the other links course in North Berwick, Scotland, during Genesis last week, missing the cut after going +5 over on a par 70. This isn't to say that it will play out precisely the same again one week later, but the links course at St. Andrews is a much more arduous task for the newcomer. Im is ranked 69th in strokes gained putting, so it's a relatively easy decision for me to fade him, despite being the favorite in this group.

Gary Woodland and Paul Casey are two veterans on the PGA Tour. Both have seen success at St. Andrews, particularly early, with both Americans starting -2 during the last Open Championship here in 2015. Casey grew up in England, so he might be more familiar with how to mitigate mistakes on a links course such as St. Andrews; however, he has not competed in a solo event since logging a Did Not Start (DNS) at The Masters in April. The extensive time off is concerning. Conversely, Woodland went T30 at Genesis last weekend, logging a -6 finish in the first round. Nevertheless, the 38-year-old American is playing with momentum and confidence, so laying a wager on him to finish Round 1 with the lowest score in this 3-Ball pairing is wise.


SELECTION: ZACH JOHNSON (+280) (Bet $100 to win $280)

The final Round 1 3-Ball pairing I'm gravitating towards consists of three experienced PGA Tour veterans. Corey Conners did not compete at St. Andrews in 2015 or 2010, so he's a wild card heading into Thursday. Unfortunately, his strokes gained putting is sub-par, ranking 84th, while his touch around the greens is even worse. A missed cut at the US Open and a T61 finish, including a first-round score of 70 (E), last weekend at Genesis makes Conners a prospect to fade during his inaugural appearance at St. Andrews.

This 3-ball pairing comes down to Billy Horschel and Zach Johnson. While Horschel recently won at The Memorial Tournament, he's missed the cut at two consecutive events, including Genesis, where he scored a +5 finish in the first round. Horschel does have a great putting game, ranked 14th in strokes gained, but his poor metrics for approaching the green from the fairway counter his flat stick abilities. The undulations at St. Andrews are unforgiving, and the fairways could make it a long opening day for Horschel. Johnson is the sneaky play here.

The 46-year-old American has not even managed a top ten finish this season. Still, he's the reigning champion from the 2015 Open Championship, finishing -15 thanks to going -6 in the opening and closing rounds. That's right. Johnson's stats don't mesmerize, but he is best putting (60th strokes gained: putting) and around the green (58th strokes gained: around-the-green) regarding his iron usage. Unfortunately, Johnson did not compete at Genesis, so he will need to adjust quickly. Fortunately, he has not gone over a first-round score of 72 in his last three events, meaning Johnson plays well early. Factor in his win seven years ago with a -6 start, and he's a realistic underdog to hit at +280.

Article Author


Matt is an avid writer, editor, and researcher. He enjoys analyzing the game within the game which is fantasy sports and sports betting. Music is another constant in his daily life. Matt loves spending time with his wife and three pets. He likes to read, listen to podcasts, and is constantly motivated to create the most accurate and engaging content in the sports betting industry.


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