COMMENTARY | The Open Championship returns to the Muirfield Golf Links, the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, for the 16th time in the 142-year history of golf's oldest major championship.
Ernie Els will be a double defender, having won the Open last year at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's as well as in 2002, the last time the Open was contested on the Gullane links. The usual suspects are all present with no real frontrunner standing out as the man to beat.
Not surprisingly, the Open boasts one of the strongest fields of the year with only Steve Sticker (10) and Charles Howell III (75) among the top 75 players in the Official World Golf Ranking not in the field.
Perhaps the biggest predictor of performance at the Open Championship is the weather forecast and which side of the draw players are on. A poor draw has doomed many a dream of hoisting the Claret Jug. However, this year at Muirfield calls for one of the fairest forecasts in recent memory with stable winds and relative sunny skies presiding over the first two rounds.
Regardless of who ends up on top of the leaderboard come week's end, they will have some big shoes to fill in terms of living up to the pedigree of past champions, which include 13 World Golf Hall of Famers. Harold Hilton (1892), Harry Vardon (1896), James Braid (1901, 1906), Walter Hagen (1929), Henry Cotton (1948), Gary Player (1959), Jack Nicklaus (1966), Lee Trevino (1972), Tom Watson (1980), Nick Faldo (1987, 1992) and Ernie Els (2002) are all past champions at Muirfield.
(*Odds were drawn from the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Superbook on July 17.)
Tiger Woods (7/1): Blame it on his pedigree and name-recognition alone, but as the betting favorite, Woods is facing more skepticism with each passing major championship. Winless in his last 16 majors spanning back to his US Open win in 2008, Woods hasn't been able to rekindle his major mojo, stumbling on the weekends when he used to put the pedal to the medal. His last visit to Muirfield in '02 was derailed by Mother Nature in the third round, so perhaps the golfing gods owe him one on this links, but he will still have to maneuver the fiery fairways while keeping a questionable left elbow healthy.
Phil Mickelson (15/1): The only player other than Woods coming into the championship with odds under 20/1, Mickelson is coming off a win last week at the Scottish Open, his first on the European Tour. While no player has ever won the Open the week after winning the Scottish, Mickelson declared, "you're looking at him," describing the last player to win a major the week after winning a Tour event. Despite that not being the case -- Tiger won at Firestone and the PGA in 2007, Phil won in Atlanta and then the Masters in '06 - the confidence is there for a player who admittedly used to "hate" links golf. Mickelson claims to have found the secret to his putting and a love for the strategy of links golf. It would be quintessential Mickelson should he claim an Open Championship before a US Open.
Adam Scott and Justin Rose (20/1): The two major champions from 2013 come into Muirfield as relative betting favorites. Adam Scott has had more success in the recent past at the Open than Rose -- 7 top 30s in the last 8 Opens for Scott versus missed cuts two of the last three times for Rose. Both have had their breakthrough moment and now the question is whether their major triumphs will lead to a bevy of other trophies.
Graeme McDowell (25/1): The man pegged to take home the US Open Trophy at Merion is the same man many are picking to hoist the Claret Jug. McDowell has won three of his last eight events but in the five tournaments he didn't win, he missed the cut, including MC at both 2013 majors. Muirfield will call for a mentally tough, straight-ball hitter, which McDowell is. It's been feast or famine for the Portrush man, it's just a matter of which version of him shows up this week.
Padraig Harrington (60/1): The only player besides Rory McIlroy to have claimed multiple major championships since 2008, the Irishman was a 36-hole leader the last time the Open was at Muirfield and says he feels on the cusp of a breakthrough.
Matteo Manassero (60/1): The young Italian has a game tailor-made for Open Championship golf. He hits it straight, has a solid short game and appears to have the pedigree to be a winner at Muirfield and go on to have a Hall of Fame career.
Miguel Angel Jimenez (150/1): The Most Interesting Man in Golf is coming off a broken leg in the offseason, but has contended multiple times on the European Tour this season. At 49, Jimenez is still searching for his first major championship.
While choosing one player this week seems like a fool's errand, there are a trio of players worth your attention, and if you're into that sort of thing, your money. Jason Day (25/1) has done everything but win a major over the past few years. The Aussie fits the mold as a first-time major champion in 2013 and has the experience of playing late on multiple Sundays to win this one.
Sergio Garcia (30/1) has kept a relatively low profile following his public relations implosion stemming from his "feud" with Tiger Woods. And despite his statement to the contrary, he is more than capable of winning a major championship.
Finally, South African Branden Grace (60/1) could be one of the best value picks of the championship. Coming off of a four-win 2012 in Europe, Grace has struggled in his four-month stint on the PGA Tour in 2013. His track record as a streaky player should be worth a look as he fell to Phil Mickelson in the Scottish Open playoff last week and has always been a good links player.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
- Sports & Recreation
- Muirfield Golf Links
- Tiger Woods
- Open Championship
- Adam Scott
- Ernie Els