British Open 2010 Predictions: Tiger Woods Wins
Sometimes statistics make predictions appear more secure.
But other times, it's just instincts.
What lies ahead are the 10 golfers that I believe have the best chance to finish in the top 10, or perhaps win, at the British Open Championship held at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Every player I've chosen has either won a major championship or a PGA Tour event in the last two seasons.
While each of these players can undoubtedly handle the difficulty of St. Andrews, it's the 600-year history, pressure of the most coveted golf major, and palpable aura of prestige that will generate the most intense challenge of the 2010 PGA Tour season.
Graeme McDowell: Momentum Factor
Whether or not Graeme McDowell will display his fancy, stylish V-neck cardigan for four days like he did at the US Open is completely up in the air.
However, coming off wins at the Wales Open and most notably, his first major championship at the US Open, Graeme McDowell has the potential to card a top 10 finish at the Open Championship.
The last time the British Open was held at St. Andrews in 2005 McDowell finished T11, recording one of the lowest final rounds with a 67.
Similar to a player like Luke Donald, McDowell has a solid grasp of how to play links golf; the bump and runs, the slippery greens, and the emphasis on accuracy off the tee.
McDowell has been playing terrific golf over the last couple months and could pose a real threat over the weekend at St. Andrews.
Luke Donald: A Man of Few Mistakes
Luke Donald has made the cut at every British Open since 2004, most notably finishing T5 at last year's Open Championship.
The Englishmen understands the complexity of a links course like St. Andrews. He makes few mistakes off the tee, which is the benefit of not being long, and is one of the best and most reliable putters on Tour (No. 8 in Putts per round with 28.18).
His win at the Madrid Masters earlier in the year eclipsed his four-year drought and showed the golf world that he can be a threat on the professional circuit.
Paul Casey: A Slow and Steady Threat
Paul Casey has the kind of game that could win the British Open, or at least brand him a factor come Sunday.
He rarely three-putts (No. 16 in Putting Average), his irons are not wild or unpredictable (No. 33 in GIR), and he has both length and control off the tee (averages 290 yards off the tee).
Though he has not played in many events this year (nine), he's made seven cuts and earned four top-10's.
Casey has never been one to dominate or intimidate his competition, but his slow and steady approach to golf has made him a consistently competitive player among golf's elite.
Don't be surprised by a top 10 finish for Casey at the Open Championship.
Ricky Barnes: Can't Rule Him out
His swing is unconventional, his mood is unflappable, and his knack for playing well in majors has been unexpectedly exciting.
Ricky Barnes has not finished outside of the top 40 since the Shell Houston Open back in April and has posted nine top-25 finishes in the 16 events he's competed in over the season.
His T10 at the Masters could have been a top five finish had he not struggled in his final round, but was still a mark of his developing presence on Tour.
Barnes' 27th place finish at the US Open also had the capacity to be a much lower finish had he not shot 76, 74 on Friday and Saturday.
What most people forget is that Barnes is still relatively new to the PGA Tour. Though he has competed in a variety of events over the last few years, Barnes was a Nationwide star until his breakout 2009 campaign (highlighted by his T2 finish at the US Open).
At this point in his young career, he does not have the game or experience to win the Open Championship. But nonetheless, Barnes has become a player you can't rule out.
Justin Rose: Not Ready To Bloom at the Open Championship
If Justin Rose wins the British Open, half of the world's golf fans will probably be shocked, and the other half will not be surprised in the least.
With two wins on the year (the Memorial Tournament and the AT&T National), in addition to two other top-10 finishes, Justin Rose has been one of the stand-out players of the 2010 PGA Tour season.
He has established a rhythm from tee to green that has catapulted him to the upper echelon of professional golf.
But the Open Championship will be the first major Rose has competed in this year, considering he did not qualify for the Masters or US Open.
Don't get me wrong, the Memorial and AT&T National are substantial wins for Rose, considering the level of difficulty of the courses (Muirfield Village and Aronimink).
However, fusing the arduous conditions of the Old Course with the pressure of not just any major championship, but the oldest and most prolific of them all, makes Rose's chances at a victory minimal.
But Rose may have a top-10 finish in him. He drives the ball straight (ranked No. 27 in Driving Accuracy), makes around four birdies per round (ranked No. 3 in Birdie Average), and is just behind Ernie Els in second place in Scoring Average (69.65).
Rose may be on a hot streak, but don't plan on him winning at the Open Championship.
Lee Westwood: Neither Dependable Nor a Winner
Lee Westwood has become the quintessential, underwhelming golfer on Tour.
People made a huge deal about his win at the St. Jude Classic because he "finally" won on the PGA Tour. But it was really just newsworthy because Westwood didn't blow it down the stretch like he has become notorious for.
There's no doubt that Westwood is an excellent competitor. He's finished in the top 25 seven times in the nine events he's competed in this season.
However, in at least three of those events (the Masters, Honda Classic, and the Players Championship), Westwood was within striking distance with a legitimate chance to capture the victory, but failed with mediocre play and costly mistakes in his final rounds.
Westwood's second place finish at this year's Masters and third place finish at last year's Open Championship demonstrate his capacity to play fierce, high-caliber golf in the most pressure-filled events of the season.
However, St. Andrews is not a course where a first-time major championship winner is born.
Padraig Harrington: Just Not His Year
Padraig Harrington will not win the British Open.
But that doesn't mean he won't finish in the top 10 come Sunday.
For every golf course Harrington competes at, he pays scrupulous attention to the intricate details. That skill has already proven it's worth for Harrington, who earned two separate Open Championships already, first in 2007 at Carnoustie and second in 2008 at Royal Birkdale.
Harrington will benefit from his meticulous nature at St. Andrews, where thinking your way around the golf course is a must.
However, without a win on the year, and only having been in contention four times in the ten events he's competed in this season, it just doesn't feel like Harrington can pull off four rounds of solid, unbeatable golf.
Ernie Els: Not an 'Easy' Player To Rule Out
The "Big Easy" was sizzling at the start of the year, capturing two victories early in the 2010 PGA Tour season.
Critics seem to think that because Ernie hasn't won since the end of March and missed two cuts during that time, that for some reason is no longer worthy of being considered a front-runner for success.
However, Els' third place finish at the Valero Texas Open, as well as his nail biting third place at the US Open, reveal just how close Ernie has come to adding another "W" to this year's scorecard.
The primary reason for not counting Els out of the Open Championship is that he is ranked No. 1 in probably the most impressive and significant stat in professional golf—Scoring Average (69.54).
That stat is a testament to the consistency of Els' overall game, and specifically his ceaseless, mental strength that always makes him a contender.
Similar to Mickelson, if Els can control his tee shots and sustain some comfort on the putting greens, he could be a real threat at the Open Championship.
Phil Mickelson: How He Putts Will Determine His Finish
The way Phil Mickelson putts at St. Andrews will be the pivotal factor in whether he wins or finishes in the top 10 at the Open Championship.
Phil's Achilles Heel at the US Open at Pebble Beach was without a doubt his inability to consistently make putts, especially those putts in the six to ten foot range (if you remember, he was reported as saying that he had putted "just awful").
One does not win a major championship, or any event for that matter, by putting well in one of the four rounds, and Phil understands that concept better than most on Tour.
The inherent unpredictability of Phil's game means there is no sense of assurance that he won't make the same mistakes he made at the US Open, let alone what happened last week at the Scottish Open.
Last Friday, in his second round at the Scottish Open, Phil was on the verge of making the cut, until he approached the 18th hole. Lefty hit three separate tee shots leading to a brutal quintuple-bogey 9 and ultimately a missed cut.
So much for momentum heading into the Open Championship.
Another issue for Phil will be accuracy, both off the tee (ranked No. 180 on Tour this season) and into greens (ranked No. 58 in GIR). On a course world renown for its excessively dry and windy conditions, Phil will need to introduce a level of control that is not an inherent aspect of his game if he truly hopes to contend for the win.
The only reason I imagine Phil can remain near the top of the leader board throughout the event is that he is one of the best, if not the greatest, recovery players of all time.
If you start to doubt him, just think back to the phenomenal shot he hit from behind the tree at Augusta National on the 13th hole of this years' Masters.
Tiger Woods: Your Open Championship Winner
Returning to St. Andrews grants Tiger a multitude of advantages.
He has said that without a doubt, the Old Course is his ideal course for a major championship.
He has won overwhelmingly two British Opens at this venue, first in 2000 by eight strokes and then in 2005 by five strokes.
It's a golf course that calls for shot-making—maneuvering the ball in either direction and changing the trajectory—and that is Tiger's specialty. Due to schizophrenic weather conditions, rolling, massively sloped fairways, and the unbelievably dry state of the course, Tiger will utilize his ability to visualize and execute a variety of shots.
Most golf fans are reluctant to believe that Tiger does in fact have the momentum going into Thursday at the Open Championship. But his rich history at St. Andrews and firm grasp of the course's conditions give him a crucial leg up.
He is riding the momentum from the two majors this season where a win was within his grasp and he just barely lost it.
Tiger has had enough time to get reacquainted with professional, competitive golf and will play thrilling, winning golf throughout the event, effectively earning his 15th major championship.