Raise your hand if you had Webb Simpson winning the U.S. Open last month and Bubba Watson donning the green jacket after this April’s Masters. Chances are there aren’t many honest people raising their hand right now, and therein lies what is so great about professional golf today. With the British Open teeing off tomorrow morning, there are many more questions than answers about who will walk away with the prestigious Claret Jug.
Similar to the U.S. Open, the British Open is oftentimes more about about survival than simply sheer talent. The golfers who best navigate the challenging Royal Lytham & St. Annes course in England — while dealing with everything from changing temperatures, rain and wind — will be in the running at the end. And oftentimes, that is not always a household name or a golfer ranked in the sports top 10.
How better to explain Darren Clarke’s surprising win a year ago? Or Louis Oosthuizen’s in 2010 after failing to make the Open cut the three years before? Or Todd Hamilton’s in 2004? Or Ben Curtis’ in 2003? While top-ranked golfers like Stewart Cink (2009), Pádraig Harrington (2007-08) and Tiger Woods (2005-06) have won this event, its history of rewarding the underdog since its inception in 1860 makes it a must-see for even casual golf fans.
And even though it’s been well documented that the Jug is up for grabs, there always has to be favorites, right? And slump or no slump, that conversation has to start with Tiger Woods.
Given that Woods hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, I feel kind of like a broken record picking him to be in the thick of things Sunday; but it’s hard to discount one of the greatest golfers ever against a field of very good but inconsistent challengers. McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson all stand a good chance, but I said the same thing last month before McIlroy and Watson failed to even make the cut at the Open.
Assuming that Americans Watson, Mickelson and Dustin Johnson come up short due to their inconsistency off the tee, that essentially leaves Tiger and a bunch of Europeans left to battle it out. Amongst those are Harrington, Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia.
One thing is for sure: With four playoffs in the last 10 years (2009, 2007, 2004, 2002), those tuning in over the next four days are guaranteed to see some great golf.