Tiger declared the Open Championship (nee British Open) his favorite major this week. Interesting admission from Tiger, who may be trying to convince himself of that fact to get properly motivated for the week. I would imagine his favorite major will be the next one he wins. Before the Masters, in a rare prediction that hasn’t yet gone awry, I said that Tiger’s next best chance to win a major would be the 2013 Masters. It’s clear Tiger is playing much better, but I still don’t think his game is ready for four rounds at tricky Lytham, or the diabolical Ocean Course at Kiawah where the PGA will be held in August.
What I find interesting about Tiger’s claim is that it appears to be one that is becoming more prevalent, especially in the U.S. I think there’s an underlying desire in golf to go retro, to get back to the roots. In the United States for a long time we were building more and more massive golf courses. Big greens, big bunkers, big rough and about 8 sets of tees. The trouble is, this type of golf has proven to be a nightmare for amateurs and no test for the best players in the world. We’ve realized in recent years that if you want to challenge the best players in the world, you must have a firm golf course–the length is often times a secondary factor. So, this takes us back to the U.K. where they’ve had this exact type of course for hundreds of years. I think there is a renewed appreciation in the Brits, the Scots, the Irish, etc. getting all these courses right the first time. And considering the Open Championship is also the oldest and most global major, its rise in prominence, in the eyes of non-Euros, is understandable.
The Open Championship arrives at Royal Lytham & St. Annes this year. For most golf fans the Open Rota is St. Andrews and all the other courses. Some know that Carnoustie is the hard course, that Troon has the “Postage Stamp,” green and that Turnberry has the best views, but Royal Lytham doesn’t have much of a profile for the casual golf fan. If anything, the course is famous for its numerous bunkers–205 of them, but it hasn’t hosted the Open Championship since David Duval was good. That’s 2001. With St. Andrew’s getting doubled up in the rotation, some of the lesser known Open venues are getting less action.
As far as the course goes, aside from the plentiful bunkering, what you probably need to know is that it’s been raining in the U.K. for about 3 straight months. The rough is healthy. More rain is in the forecast for this week. Players who spray the ball offline this week are going to get punished and if the wind is up and helping balls fly into tough spots, I’d imagine the scores will be pretty high. The Open Championship often rewards a ball-striker and the slower paced, meandering greens can be an equalizer. That sounds like a recipe for a Tiger rout, given his improved ball-striking, but I still say he’s not ready. I expect Tiger to be hitting it sideways by Saturday.
Before I get into some tee times and predictions, remember that coverage for the Open Championship starts at 5am on Thursday. Love, love, love getting up early and parking it on the couch to watch this tournament. Might be the best part of the whole event.
4:09 am–Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Zach Johnson. Anyone remember that Clarke won this tournament last year? It’s proven to be a career capper, not a springboard as Clarke has done nothing since. Ernie Els has developed into one of the bigger whiners on tour, his most recent tirade claiming the equipment makes it too easy to win (for everyone except him, I suppose). Zach Johnson won last week.
4:20 am–Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, Yoshinori Fujimoto. Bubba’s still checked out after the Masters, though you’d assume he’ll put the pieces together for at least one run in this event before he’s done. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen for Lee Westwood. And, as far as I know, Yoshinori Fujimoto was one of the original developers of Nintendo.
4:31 am–Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Hiroyuki Fujita. Isn’t it about time for Dustin to choke away another major? His O.B. block was one of the signature moments of last year’s event. Graeme McDowell feels like a legitimate threat, and no, Hiroyuki Fujita is not Scott Fujita’s brother.
4:42 am–Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose. You’ll be able to watch Tiger’s entire round, and be done by 9:30 am–go on and have a full day. As I said, I don’t think it’s Tiger’s time yet. I like Sergio to eventually win a major before Westwood, and Justin Rose feels a bit like Andy Murray at Wimbledon to me.
8:59 am–Hunter Mahan, Nick Colsaerts, and John Senden. There are a LOT, a LOT of people tabbing Mahan this week. Colsaerts is the kind of anonymous Euro Tour talent who could easily win. John Senden is a legendary ball-striker. Legendary. Just not on this big of a stage.
9:43 am–Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, Geoff Ogilvy. If Geoff Ogilvy can win a major…Donald should be able to win one too. The world’s #1 has been a stark disappointment in the big events to this point, especially at Olympic–a venue that was supposed to cater to his game. We won’t know if Donald has the stuff until he pulls it off. Mickelson has been a mess all year. His 73-64-65-74 last week at the Scottish Open kind of sums it up. One of his best runs ever in this event came last year. He’s running out of chances.
Daly, Duval, or Watson: The American Sentimentality Triumvirate. As I mentioned, Duval won here in 2001. He was so good then, it’s hard to describe. If the Duval of 1999-2001 was playing now, he’d be far and away the best player in the world and the best closer in the world. After a few good finishes spotted around here and there, Duval’s been mostly down the last two years. In contrast, John Daly’s game appears to be on the rise. Still, give me Old Tom.
Fowler, McIlroy, or Keegan Bradley: I think Bradley will find his legs, but he’s not looking like a major winner right now. Rory has openly admitted he’s not a fan of poor weather conditions. His Open record backs up that sentiment. Fowler on the other hand has been a bit of dark horse pick after his good showing last year and breakthrough win at Wells Fargo. I’ll hop in the Fowler bandwagon, but not to win.
Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia: What were the odds in 2002 that these guys would go 0 for the next 40 majors? Most people would probably have said they were more likely to have 5 combined than 0. Scott has never showed me he can even contend regularly in these events. Westwood and Garcia have both been beaten down by countless disappointments. Among three great ball-strikers, I’ll take Sergio.
Tiger, Phil, or Luke Donald: Picking Phil to win an Open Championship is like taking what’s behind the door on Let’s Make a Deal. Who the F–K knows. He could shoot 64 or 84, I really wouldn’t bat an eyelash. His two good rounds last week offer some hope. Luke Donald is a buckler. That leaves Tiger, who should grind well, but not finish. I’ll take Tiger and his fancy running cleats.
The Definitive Top-10:
(US Open Pick Results: 8 of 10 made cut, 3 top-15 finishers)
- Bo Van Pelt
- Jim Furyk
- Nick Colsaerts
- Francesco Molinari
- Brandon Grace
- Hunter Mahan
- Sergio Garcia
- Tiger Woods
- Justin Rose
- Jason Dufner