Making predictions about who will play well in a golf tournament is such an exercise in nerd-dom that I’m embarrassed to say I now do it before each event. I fear this is the beginning of a very unhealthy addiction that may eventually lead to participation in a fantasy league and calling sports talk radio shows. I may require an intervention.At any rate, here we are just a day in front of the British Open and I’m feeling like rolling the dice with some guesses on who will perform.
Incidentally, I know that it’s called “The Open Championship” and that for some strange reason TV announcers and golf writers everywhere have caved in recent years to the R&A’s demand that we refer to it as such. But I grew up calling it the British Open, as did every other American, in order to distinguish it from our national championship. If I should ever go to the tournament, I will call it the Open in deference to my hosts, but not otherwise. As far as I’m concerned, we stopped taking orders from Great Britain when we told King George to pound sand, so I see no reason to erase 230+ years of defiance in deference to a golf tournament. I don’t think it’s disrespectful. The tournament is in Great Britain and it’s open. It’s the British Open. I guess the R&A wants some acknowledgment from the ugly Americans that their event is not only the oldest tournament, but has the international flavor of a truly multinational championship. I’ll give them that, but they really need to quit with the insistence that the winner be proclaimed the "Champion Golfer of the Year.” Inasmuch as that designation implies the winner is the best in the world, the R&A adheres to something that hasn’t been true for quite awhile. I mean, they give exemptions to players from the Japanese, Asian, Australian and Sunshine Tours, for goodness sakes. Nevertheless, I love the British Open.
The British is quirky and it’s a lot more fun than any other Major, partly because it exposes us to a host of players we don’t know and it gives me something other than Golf Channel infomercials to watch on TV at 4:00 a.m. Of course, many people love to talk of the vagaries of links-style golf as the reason they like the British. Since we don’t see links golf on the PGA Tour, it’s fun to watch a tournament where frequently there appears to be no discernible difference between fairway, green and even rough. But it takes all of 60 seconds to discuss why links golf is fun to watch—wind, rain, pot bunkers, crazy bounces. That’s pretty much it…I’ve veered slightly from the purpose of this post…my picks.
I’ve decided to utilize three categories of guesses for this week’s tournament, mainly as a hedge whereby I can claim some form of meaningless prescience should I get lucky and pick a winner: 1) Favorites; 2) Familiar names but less favored; 3) guys you’ve probably never heard of and why I like them.
As anyone who read my piece on the Player’s Championship knows, I typically avoid picking a winner from the “Favorites” lineup because it’s easy and not-at-all amusing. I mean, my 8 year old nephew picks Tiger every week. There’s no art to that, or even the illusion of reason. That’s just fandom. Besides, Tiger burned me at the Open (The United States Open Championship for those of the pompous inclination) by going South of the Equator as soon as I pronounced him the winner after 36 holes. Tiger’s not even the obvious favorite this week, and by “obvious” I mean one of the players being touted by media-types. He's among the favorites, but everyone's leery of Tiger's inconsistency and not at all certain which Tiger will be present for the event.
The big media guys are talking Luke Donald, Padraig Herrington, Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler, for some odd reason. Of those, I like Westwood, then Herrington. That order was reversed until I saw Westwood’s press conference yesterday where for the first time he seemed a bit peeved by the persistent suggestion that he lacks a Major caliber short game. I think he will win out of spite. That’s only if my actual favorite doesn’t win. For that, we have to scratch just below the service of popular opinion.
My guess for the winner among lesser-favorites, if you will, is Ernie Els. He’s been hitting the ball great for the last year. Putting has been his bugaboo, and with greens stimping at 10.5, Ernie will make more than his share and go home with the Claret Jug, unless…
Justin Rose wins. He’s got 5 top tens on tour this year, including a victory, and 8 top 25s. He’s earned 2.6 million dollars on the PGA Tour in 2012 while playing only 12 events. Currently ranked 12th in FedEx Cup points and 9th in the world, he’s ready for a Major. Plus, Rose is from England, so he grew up playing in weather that requires bundling up as if readying for a winter storm; the kind of weather that makes for exceptional bowlers. He will thrive.
So much for favorites…let’s have more fun with Sleeper picks. They are, in order that I think they will contend, if not win:
- Sergio Garcia. I may be the only guy in America picking him, but here’s why I like his chances. He’s an excellent driver and pure ball striker; qualities favored anywhere, but particularly at Royal Lytham where strategic angles are key. Like Els, his putting holds him back but should be far less a factor this week on slow greens. This pick is risky, given that Sergio is paired with Tiger on Thursday and Friday, historically not a good thing for him. On the plus side, Sergio seems to care less these days and long gone are the expectations of greatness. I sent him my blog on playing better by caring less. Obviously, he read it. In his interview going in to the final round of the US Open a mere 4 shots back of the lead, he basically threw in the towel. I like the attitude.
- Thomas Bjorn. The Great Dane won thrice last year after spending the better part of this century re-living his nightmarish bunker escapade that cost him the Open in 2003. I didn’t bother with his stats. He just looks tough.
- David Duval. Pretty weird pick, I’ll acknowledge, given that he’s made just two cuts this year and is ranked like 180th in driving accuracy. But I have this good lucky feeling that he’ll recapture the magic of his win from 2002…or maybe it’s just wishful thinking.
- Davis Love III. At age 48, he’s hitting it as long as ever, and straighter than ever. He’s been lurking around the first page of the leader board all year. After the Open, he will be stuck in full time Ryder Cup Captain mode, so there’s a sense of urgency to take one more Major that will ensure entrance to the Hall of Fame.
Now for the best part, and my real reason for writing this blog--the obscure guys:
- Robert Rock. Best hair in golf…nobody’s even close to second place. Imagine what a Robert Rock looks like, then Google him. Pretty close, right?
- Jbe’ Kruger. Tiniest man in professional golf at 5’5’’ and 135 pounds. I’m rooting for him to beat Els in a playoff so the media won’t be challenged to think of headlines. Also, I had to Google his name just to see how to pronounce Jbe’. Turns out, that’s a nickname for James Barry and it’s pronounced “JB.” He’s from South Africa, so I can only assume the spelling is some weird Dutch or Afrikaans thing.
- Yoshinori Fujimoto. The real life Yoshi! This guy has no shot. I confess to picking him for the name.
- Justin Hicks. No one appears to know how he got in the tournament. There is zero information about him on the official site of The Open Championship. I smell an imposter. I like imagining that he's some 15 handicapper. If so, I'd give him the Jug for shear chutzpah.
- Sang Moon Bae. I spent a lovely vacation there in the Bahamas.
- Thorbjorn Olesen. Changed his first name from Jacob, marking him, clearly, as quite nuts.
That’s it. We’ll see how my guesses fare come Sunday.