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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Quick Open Preview

After three weeks of following the LPGA (two of which were majors), it feels a bit odd to focus on the PGA again. Unlike the women, who have been jockeying back and forth for the top spots in the rankings, the men's rankings don't really change very much. Graeme McDowell is now at #11 so a good finish at St. Andrews could move him into the Top 10, but he'll need some help to get there.

Ironically, viewed through the same criteria I use for the women, Tiger has the most to gain from a win this week. All of the players have played about the same number of tournaments during the ranking period, but Tiger has the fewest at 40 and his last good tournament, the 2008 U.S. Open, has already dropped from the calculations. (In fact, that was his last tournament in 2008, so his point gains the rest of this year will be based totally on his play... which may or may not be good. We'll see.) He's only gained about 60 points this year -- by comparison, Ian Poulter has more than doubled that total. A good finish at the Open could literally open his lead on Mickelson. (If you want to take a look at the current ratings, here's the PDF from the World Ranking site. The neat thing here is that it shows both how many points have been gained and how many have been lost. It'll give you a good idea why the rankings are so hard to keep up with. Tiger has lost over 239 points, which offsets that 60-point gain, don't you think?)

By comparison, Ernie Els has the most tourneys in the period at 57, so he'll pretty much need a win if he wants to move up much in the rankings. (His T7 in the 2008 Open will drop off next week, so he may need a good finish just to hold his position.)

I think Luke Donald has the most to gain with a win this week. He won't lose any points (he didn't play the last half of 2008, and many of his 2009 results were mediocre) and has made the most of his play so far this year (63.560 points lost vs 173.587 gained). I believe a win might kick him into the Top 5 in the rankings.

I am on record as picking Tiger to win this week; I picked him back before he played at Pebble. His last tourney showed some serious improvement in getting his swing back (we all expected that, didn't we?) and he's proven he doesn't need a driver to win at St. Andrews, so that's certainly to his advantage. And Shane Bacon is reporting that Tiger has switched putters this week in an effort to help that part of his game. But I have to say I'm a little concerned after the tabloids managed to get under Tiger's skin last week; if they find a way to do it again during the tournament, he might not play well. So that -- and not his game -- is the question mark for me.

While St. Andrews is hardly an "easy" course -- again, Shane is doing some posts for Devil Ball about the holes he thinks may be critical (he's already posted about #1, #5, and #17) -- it is a course that doesn't rule out any player who controls his emotions. So I'm picking 5 players other than Tiger who I think have good chances this week. These are all gut feelings, rather than being based on any stats, and are in no particular order:
  • Tim Clark: The Penguin never gets any respect. Has everybody forgotten that he nearly won the Masters a few years ago? Having broken through at the Players, I think he may be able to get over the hump if he gets in contention.
  • Ian Poulter: Another player who gets no respect. Not only has Ian broken through at the Match Play earlier this year, he's proven that he can handle Open pressure.
  • Tom Watson: You thought there was magic at Turnberry? If there is any magic in golf, I suspect we'll see it here.
  • Chris Wood: Not a well-known player on our side of the pond, but Wood has played well in his Open appearances and just might be due.
  • Steve Stricker: I know this one goes against all logic. He had a T52 last year... but a T7 and T8 the two years before. The win at John Deere tells me his injury is healed... and hey, the guy's won twice this year already. Stricker's my dark horse pick.
ESPN will carry the first couple of rounds starting at 4 AM Thursday morning. Regardless of what the odds-makers' say, Tiger is NOT the favorite this year... and while they don't say so, you can be sure quite a few of the players believe this Open is theirs for the taking. This could be the most fun Open we've seen in years!

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