When it comes to picking a winner at the British Open, it’s easier to guess who’s got no shot, as the late Rob Rosburg used to say.
Colin Montgomerie? No shot. Nick Faldo ? No shot. Peter Senior? No shot. Who will win? Another kettle of fish and chips.
Even among the stars, picks are hard to make. If Phil Mickelson were to win a British Open, it should be at The Old Course because he can hit it into the adjoining fairway and still be OK. His short game is custom-made for The Old Course’s double greens. And his putting is good enough.
The Old Course does not have fast greens during the British Open because the wind can blow the balls off them, but it has huge greens with amazing undulation. It's like seeing double at Augusta National.
Ernie Els is still fuming about losing the US Open, although, really, he has two of those. Still, with his touch and usual accuracy, he is always a candidate for big tournaments.
Ian Poulter seems primed to win a big one. He probably has new outfits, although count on him wearing the Union Jack pants one day and then donating them to a charity auction.
The weather in St. Andrews is predicted to be like November in, shall we say, Kansas? And that means Tom Watson. Watson lost a British Open at The Old Course in 1984 when he hit onto the road and butchered the 17th in the final round. Seve Ballesteros won.
But bad weather mad men like Watson as well as Steve I-love-to-hit-out-of-trailers-in-winter Stricker and fellow cheesehead Jerry Kelly have to be licking their chops. They grew up in this stuff.
With Justin Rose winning twice in the US, a lot of pressure is off him. He can go back to Great Britain relaxed, a success on two tours. His mindset has to be better than it has ever been going into the British Open.
And Rory McIlroy , sure to be a crowd favorite, has no qualms about being the center of attention, so that won’t throw him off. His game is strong enough. If he has a week when he is even mostly on, he could be unstoppable due to sheer talent.
Watching one of the preview programs where Andy North was explaining where to hit tee shots, it became apparent that while long hitters prosper at The Old Course, short hitters have a clear path as well. That brings Tim Clark, Mr. Accurate, to mind. If he had not won The Players, he wouldn’t be on the list.
There are plenty of other candidates, and that’s what makes picking a winner so treacherous.
There’s the list of possibles, semi-knowns , semi-unknowns , and the who the heck are theys . Possibles are the usual suspects. Semi-unknowns and who the heck are theys show up on the leaderboard , particularly during the first couple of rounds, at which point they become semi-knowns .
It’s almost a tradition to have a semi-unknown and a who the heck are they tied for the lead after the first round. Graeme McDowell was a semi-unknown until he won the US Open. Gregory Havret , who finished second, is still somewhere between a semi-unknown and a who the heck are they.
In 1984, when Tom Watson nearly won a British Open at St. Andrews, really unknown Ian Baker-Finch led after each round. No one had a clue who he was. He became initials: IBF . A few years later, he went on to win a British Open, take his trousers off at Colonial, and is now a CBS golf announcer.
So the semi-unknowns and who the heck are theys can upgrade to star status based on future play. And it just means there is no such thing as a perfect crystal golf ball.
This year there are about 34 who the heck are theys . My favorite names from this group include—no kidding—Danny Chia and Zane Scotland. I predict that Zane Scotland will have a big tartan following and Danny Chia will have a pet. Sorry, couldn’t resist. No one could have made up their names on purpose.
The British Open being the original world golf championship, there are a lot of golfers from Asia who are definite who the heck are theys , even for those of us who watch a lot of The Golf Channel.
Shunsuke Sonoda , for instance. Or Hirofumi Miyase . They are perfect first-round leaders, although Danny Chia would be remarkable. Then there are those from other parts of the globe who just went out and qualified or are on a money list somewhere. Tom Whitehouse or Tano Goya. Who the heck are they? You get the point.
But none of those players are actually going to be pouring their morning coffee from the claret jug for the next 12 months.
Despite the fact that he’s won the last two times the British Open was played at The Old Course, Tiger Woods is less likely to win than most people think. He fell in love with distance again after playing a few rounds with Dustin Johnson. So he’s got a new ball that goes farther, like that’s the issue. Farther, but on what planet?
And he’s changed putters despite the fact that his caddie Steve Williams said that Woods’ putting has been substandard. That’s the kind of talk that gets a caddie a pink slip, but it is true.
However, no one ever won a golf tournament putting from the trees or rough, and that’s the real issue. That said, like Mickelson, Woods will be able to hit into adjacent fairways and play to the green.
So even though he’s the odds on favorite, Tiger in 2010—doubtful. Anybody who knows my skill at predicting will immediately go out and put a half million on Woods at Ladbrokes .
Who will win? It’s still the year for Phil the Thrill. He was a few silly shots away from winning the US Open, and he won The Masters. His game was made for The Old Course. If he gets a lucky weather window, don’t be surprised to see him packing a new trophy to take back to San Diego on Sunday night.