It's time for the third major of the year, and this one's going to be one of the most enjoyable, without a doubt. The winner could be a legend, or he could be someone we've never heard of at the moment. You just don't know, do ya? Devil Ball editor Jay Busbee and head writer Shane Bacon offer up their best thoughts on what might transpire at St. Andrews ...
Bacon: You know I don't want to say it, but I have to. He's the best golfer in the world, no matter the turmoil. He is the best golfer on this course, possibly ever. He strategizes better than anyone else in the game, and he has a caddie that has as much experience on these links as anyone. Tiger Woods will leave St. Andrews with another Claret Jug.
Busbee: Only if he steals it from Justin Rose! Nah, this Open is as filled with possibility as any in memory. Rose is coming in as hot as anyone right now, and with shotmaking ability and the course intelligence to take the weather into account, he's got a fine chance to keep his streak going.
The weather will...
Bacon: ... be as big a factor as we've seen since 1995. That was when the wind was whipping so bad in the early rounds that Ian Baker-Finch famously snap-hooked his opening tee shot out of bounds left, a feat that even 20-handicappers would have a hard time doing. Wind usually plays a factor in Opens, but hasn't at St. Andrews this century. Look for that to change starting Thursday.
Busbee: ... change from morning to evening. (Weather usually does, you know.) Question is, which group will receive the favorable conditions? A windstorm that, say, blows in Thursday afternoon and lingers till Friday morning will all but ensure that the winner won't come from the Thursday afternoon pairings. All the grooves and strategy in the world won't matter a whit once the wind grabs hold of a tee shot that lofts just a wee bit too high.
Tiger Woods will...
Bacon: ... win, win I say! The stiffest competition he faces is someone like Justin Rose, who is playing with Tiger on Thursday and Friday, so he will be handed the same conditions and crowd problems as Woods.
Busbee: ... make a good run, a very good run, but I don't think he'll be in the hunt for a win. I predict his British will be much like his U.S. and his Augusta — decent enough to stay on the first page of the leaderboard, but erratic enough with the putter that he'll knock himself out of contention.
Phil Mickelson will...
Bacon: ...do what Phil does at British Opens. He will play fine for a couple of days, play crummy once and mediocre the next. This tournament isn't his spot, and he knows it.
Busbee: ... wish there was a Five Guys or a Krispy Kreme nearby. I'm with Shane; Phil will self-destruct at the British once again. Wind 1, Lefty 0.
The dark horse will be...
Bacon: ...Ricky Barnes. In his last three starts in majors, Barnes had two top 10s. He hits the ball far, which you need at St. Andrews, and continues to play better and better in the big events. St. Andrews might be a tough place to breakthrough for your first win, but Barnes is the type of player that has confidence for days, and heads into events thinking he can win, no matter the title.
Busbee: ...Paul Casey. Still hasn't won a major, but he's got the tools and the under-the-radar mindset to play well here. Shades of Graeme McDowell at Pebble Beach, yes? He's had an off year as he recovers from injury suffered this time last year, but he should be totally healed now and well enough to compete at the top level.
The turning point will be...
Bacon: ... how the 17th plays all week. I was over in St. Andrews a few weeks back, and spoke with a ton of caddies and locals about the new tee on 17. Basically, the worry isn't the distance but the landing area for the players. There is a downhill area just past the walking path where most drives will come in, and if it catches that, some people fear the balls will kick into the gnarly rough through the fairway, basically making the hole a par-5. Get around 17 in even par for the week, and you'd be miles ahead of the field.
Busbee: ... the fabled bunkers. Somebody's going to fall into one of those — possibly literally — at a key moment and take themselves out of contention trying to get fancy. Those Old Country bunkers are fearsome beasts, swallowing strokes and spitting out the bones of major-championship hopes. Fear them! Fear them, I say!
All right, your turn. Offer up your own answers to our questions below. Go!