The 2013 Open Championship is only a day away, and as deep of a field as it is in golf's third major of the year, several favourites stand out from the pack.
In spite of not competing since the U.S. Open and entering Muirfield Golf Links with questionable health, Tiger Woods is still the No. 1 choice in oddsmakers' eyes at 8-1, according to the latest totals from Bovada.
That is somewhat surprising, considering Woods hasn't won a major in more than five years. Other players offer more promising bets—and more lucrative ones, due to the longer odds.
Below is a power ranking of the top five contenders who figure to have the best chances at hoisting the Claret Jug in Gullane, Scotland.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com and EuropeanTour.com. British Open information was obtained from the official website. Tournament history can be located at the Official World Golf Ranking.
*All odds courtesy of Bovada
5. Rory McIlroy (25-1)
It may seem ridiculous to place McIlroy so high due to the fact that he missed the cut at the Irish Open and hasn't played competitively since.
Perhaps the layoff is a good thing, because his game clearly wasn't in shape to tee it up with the hopes of winning in recent tournaments.
Don't mistake that for a lack of working at it, though. McIlroy has seemingly left no stone unturned when it comes to his preparation for Muirfield, having played 108 holes on the links course since last Monday, per Golf Channel's Ryan Lavner:
The 24-year-old McIlroy has said before that he's close to turning things around, only to fall flat. However, this is a legitimate superstar who has displayed a knack for bouncing back in the past.
It's also worth noting that every Open champion at Muirfield since 1929 had either won multiple majors before their victory or went on to do so thereafter.
4. Tiger Woods (8-1)
The world No. 1 is still trying to figure out the major riddle that has eluded him since the 2008 U.S. Open, and a lot of it has had to do with his putting and weekend scoring.
Last year at the Open Championship, Woods was in the thick of contention, but an ugly triple bogey at the sixth hole during his final round at Royal Lytham and St. Annes foiled his chances.
Renowned golf psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella has an interesting theory on Woods' recent play in golf's biggest tournaments—and why that aforementioned blowup in 2012 may have happened, via The Independent's Oliver Brown:
It is possible that Tiger is starting to be nagged by the question, in chasing all his dreams and ambitions, of: "What if I fall short?"
...When Tiger was up against the lip of that bunker and ended up making triple-bogey [at the 2012 Open Championship], most of the time he would have sensibly chipped the ball back.
If he had, he probably would have won the tournament. Instead, you sensed that he got in the bunker and thought: "I’ve got to do something incredible." That’s the first time you saw him panic, put pressure on himself a little, and try to force something.
Given that he had been so patient throughout his career, that moment was very interesting.
"Panic" is not a word often associated with Woods, but considering how hyper-competitive he is and the fact that he's 37 with a history of medical issues, perhaps the reality is setting in that the window is getting smaller.
Simon Bird and Neil McLeman of The Mirror report Woods as saying his elbow is "good to go," but whether he's 100 percent or not is not truly known. Therefore, it's difficult to still label him the man to beat despite his history.
3. Justin Rose (16-1)
Since finally breaking through with a major triumph at the U.S. Open, the 32-year-old Englishman has played in only one tournament—the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship. Rose finished T-13 there, which isn't bad considering it was immediately after his win at Merion.
Rose kept it low-key after winning the biggest event of his life, opting to recharge with family, according to Kelly Tilghman of Golf Channel:
Now that the whirlwind has calmed a bit, the reward for Rose is an attempt to become the first back-to-back U.S. Open and British Open winner since Woods' magnificent run in 2000.
The Claret Jug could be within reach for Rose if his form holds up despite his brief hiatus. Muirfield requires precise ball-striking and a stellar short game, and Rose is 12th on the PGA Tour in scrambling in 2013 while ranking fourth in ball striking.
Even holing a modest amount of putts should have Rose in contention, and considering the level of talent he has, perhaps the landmark victory at Merion will open the floodgates to multiple major titles.
2. Phil Mickelson (16-1)
Lefty is always one who prefers to get competitive reps in a week before a major, and it's been working well for him thus far.
In his past six events worldwide, Mickelson has missed two cuts, had two runner-up finishes, a third-place effort and a win at last week's Scottish Open.
Before the U.S. Open—the national championship that eludes Mickelson—he came in a tie for second at the FedEx St. Jude Classic before disappointingly settling for that same result at 2013's second major.
When Mickelson finished one better at the Scottish Open and won in a playoff over emerging star Branden Grace, he showcased the sensational brilliance from 100 yards and in that it takes to win an Open Championship.
It's surprising that Mickelson hasn't found more success in links golf in that context, but he's playing with plenty of confidence. Nothing could have given him more of a boost than winning in Inverness.
1. Graeme McDowell (22-1)
The swagger McDowell exudes on the course translates to the press room as well. He is evidently confident in his game plan, but what gives him a bit of an edge is the developmental part of his career.
McDowell mentions having a natural instinct for knowing how to navigate the swirling winds he'll likely face frequently at Muirfield. How he does it is with a lower flight and arrow-straight accuracy.
Being in the fairway is critical at this venue, because the rough is particularly penal and typically means bogey. What McDowell also has in his arsenal is an innate feel for links-style short game shots and clutch putting.
Having won a major previously at the 2010 U.S. Open, there isn't much reason to discount McDowell this week—especially since his modest length won't be an issue on the shorter course.
Winning his last event at the Alstom Open de France by four strokes certainly doesn't hurt either. The legendary Gary Player wondered if McDowell could pull off back-to-back wins:
After a disappointing final round in the last pairing with Adam Scott a year ago at Royal Lytham, look for McDowell to redeem that performance and perhaps even take home the hardware come Sunday.