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With all due respect to the PGA Championship, to me the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open all stand out much more significantly than the year’s final major. At the Masters, it signals the start of golf season and seeing all those azaleas in bloom reminds those stuck in cold climates that spring is here. The U.S. Open means it’s summertime and it’s great to watch that tournament because it’s usually so tough that it makes professionals look like you and me out there at times.
As for this weekend’s 141st British Open, held at Royal Lytham St. Anne in England, it reminds you where golf was born and, really, on what type of course it is supposed to be played. Most Americans probably haven’t played on a links-style course, with all of the hills, pot bunkers and crazy hay-like substance instead of rough. It’s truly a different game. And the weather always plays havoc.
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This year’s Open Championship is teeming with storylines. Tiger Woods appears to have re-established himself as the best player in the world by leading the PGA Tour in wins, money and FedEx Cup points. But he has failed in the two majors this season. He was T40 in the Masters and T21 at the U.S. Open, where he held the 36-hole lead. Woods still hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open and remains four back of Jack Nicklaus’ record haul of 18. On the bright side, Tiger had won in his start prior to those two majors earlier this year, so it’s probably a good thing he played two weeks ago at the Greenbrier and missed the cut after winning the AT&T National the week before to start July.
Is this the week the Phil Mickelson gets his first British Open and first major of any kind since the 2010 Masters? Or is this the week when stars such as Luke Donald, Lee Westwood or Sergio Garcia get their first major of any kind?
The stars could be aligning for Donald, Westwood and Sergio. That’s because 15 different players have won the past 15 majors, and the past nine were first-time major winners overall. With all due respect to the Masters and U.S. Open, Donald and Westwood are Englishmen and would rather do it here than anywhere else.
The Open Championship often provides us with surprising winners from out of nowhere. Did you really have Darren Clarke (2011), Louis Oosthuizen (2010) or Stewart Cink (2009) on your major championship radar before their wins?
It’s the 11th time St. Lytham has hosted the Open and first since David Duval won by three shots in 2001. He made history as Duval entered the third round tied for 35th, the worst 36-hole position by a major champion in history.
If you aren’t a tee-to-green specialist, you can probably forget taking home the Claret Jug. The course is pretty short at 7,086 yards, the fairways are narrow and greens are small. There are also an incredible 206 bunkers (no water hazards). That’s the most of any Open Championship ever and they are extremely punishing. And that unpredictable English weather can and likely will change at any time and be a factor. Rain and breezy conditions are in the forecast.
Golf Odds: British Open Favorites
Naturally Tiger is the favorite this week at Bovada at 8/1 to win. If he or any American were to win, it would be the fourth straight major for a USA player. That hasn’t happened since 2003-04. Tiger hasn’t had a Top-10 finish in three British Opens since his last win (missing two with an injury). In 2001 here, Woods was T25 and in 1996 he was low amateur at T22. Tiger is 11th on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation -- his highest position in that category since 2008 – and that bodes well this week. So does his new driving accuracy and the fact he doesn’t bring the big club out of the bag much these days.
Westwood and Donald are both 14/1, but their fortunes couldn’t look more different on the surface. Westwood has seven career Top-3 finishes in majors, the most by any player in the modern era without a win, and all of those have come since 2008. He's been in the top six entering the final round of a major five times since the 2010 Masters. Westwood missed the cut last year in this tournament but was second and third, respectively, in the previous two years. In 2001, he was T47.
Donald just doesn’t seem to play all that well in majors and nowhere is that more true than the British Open. He has one Top-10 finish in 11 British Opens and has missed six cuts, including last year. Since the world rankings were introduced 26 years ago, only Ian Woosnam (once), Fred Couples (once) and Tiger (11 times) won a major as the No. 1 player. By the way, Donald could lose that ranking this week to Woods depending on what happens.
Rory McIlroy (16/1) used to be No. 1 but hasn’t been the same a runner-up at the Wells Fargo Championship in early May. He has missed three of four cuts on the PGA Tour since then and one overseas, although he did play well to start this month at the Irish Open. McIlroy’s best British result is a T3 in 2010.
Two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington rounds out the Top-5 favorites at 18/1 – there is a drop-off after him to 30/1 for the next guy. He's found some consistency lately with four top-15s on the PGA Tour and a T16 in his last start on the European Tour. He was T37 at Royal Lytham in 2001 but thrives in bad weather.
Even though he’s not among the main favorites, I have to mention Mickelson at a surprisingly long 33/1. Amazingly, he has only two Top-10s in 18 British Opens, although he was a runner-up in 2011. Lefty was T30 in 2001. He isn’t playing well, having finished T65 at the U.S. Open and missing the cut at Greenbrier. He had two very good middle rounds at the Scottish Open last week but they were bookended by a 73 and a 74.
Golf Odds: British Open Betting Predictions
On the Top-10 finish props, I love Westwood to get one at +135, Graeme McDowell to at +300, Sergio at +300, Justin Rose at +275 and Tiger at Even. Mickelson “no” at -550, Donald no at -175 and McIlroy no at -200.
I am very high on Rose at 30/1 to win this week. Somehow, he only has one Top-10 finish in 10 British Opens, but he is just too good for that to continue. Rose hasn’t missed a cut on the PGA Tour all year and has five Top-10s, including a win at the WGC-Cadillac. I did a double take on Ernie Els at 40/1. He has 12 Top-10s in 21 British Open starts, including a win, and was second at Lytham in 1996 and third there in 2001.
But I said earlier in the year that I wasn’t picking Westwood to win a major any longer – other than the British Open. He’s the choice to get that big monkey off his back. Maybe that will help ease the pain in Great Britain of Andy Murray losing the Wimbledon final and be a nice lead-in to the Olympics.
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