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Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Open Championship experts' picks


Each week of the season, our experts share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Open Championship at Muirfield.

Horse for the Course

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Ernie Els. The defending Open champion also won at Muirfield the last time the Open was played here. He loves links golf, loves the course and has won in the past month, a good combination.

Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: Graeme McDowell. His game fits a course where the wind blows hard. And he's already won three times this season.

Ian O'Connor, ESPNNewYork.com columnist: Ernie Els. The defending champ won at Muirfield in 2002, and walks into the Open feeling good about his game despite the missed cut last week. "Your memory serves you well," Els said about his victory here 11 years ago, before adding, "I've missed it in places that I know I can get it up and down." It would be a big surprise if Els isn't in the mix Sunday.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Nick Faldo. The three-time Open champion, who will turn 56 Thursday, is now a full-time golf analyst for CBS and Golf Channel, but he still cherishes Muirfield after winning the Open here twice, in 1987 and 1992. At the '87 Open, Faldo won with 18 consecutive pars in his final round.


Birdie Buster

Harig: Phil Mickelson. Lefty has never been much for links golf, but he's coming off a nice victory a few hours north at the Scottish Open and brings some confidence to Muirfield.

Wojciechowski: Ernie Els. The defending champ says he loves the way his game is shaping up for Muirfield this week. In Ernie, I trust.

O'Connor: Phil Mickelson. Golf's human roller coaster is forever taking fans on the kind of ride that was his final two holes of the Scottish Open, including the near chip-in that won the playoff. He enters the Open Championship as the hot hand, and one capable of blitzing Muirfield with a flurry of birds.

Evans: Jordan Spieth. Ben Curtis was the last rookie to win the Open Championship in 2003 at Royal St. George's, shocking the golf world. After winning the John Deere to get into the field at Muirfield, it shouldn't be a surprise for the 19-year-old Dallas native to make a statement in his first Open. Spieth is as poised and excited to be in this tournament as anyone in the field.


Super Sleeper

Harig: Jordan Spieth. It's too much to ask a 19-year-old kid who is coming off his first PGA Tour victory Sunday and just flew across the ocean to win at a place he has never seen before. Isn't it?

Wojciechowski: Rory McIlroy. His confidence is a mess. A week ago he was trying out new drivers. But if he comes out with a low round Thursday, he'll make a run at this thing.

O'Connor: Sergio Garcia. It's the year of the first-time major winners (Adam Scott, Justin Rose), and it seems everywhere you turn here a local is predicting Garcia will break through. At 33, Sergio still hasn't conquered his considerable demons. He's closing hard on now-or-never time.

Evans: Rory McIlroy. The world No. 2 owns two majors and one of the most powerful games in the sport, but he has shown no signs recently that he's in shape to win this championship. After winning five times worldwide in 2012, he's winless this year after making wholesale changes to his golf equipment. But it will be hard to ignore the Northern Irishman if he gets into contention at Muirfield.


Winner

Harig: Tiger Woods. Admittedly, this week is dicey for Woods, whose form is impossible to predict given his left elbow woes. But this course always favored him if healthy, and the fact that he can hit lots of irons off tees should be a help. Could this be where the elusive 15th major arrives?

Wojciechowski: Matt Kuchar. Dart-throwing time. Adam Scott? G-Mac? Ernie? Tiger Woods, if his elbow holds up? Justin Rose? All worthy picks. But I'll take a small flier on Kuchar. Just a hunch.

O'Connor: Tiger Woods. Yeah, I picked him at Merion, too, and the bum elbow and layoff could be a problem. But Tiger's going to end this major championship drought at some point (five years and counting), and his best major finish since his 2009 scandal is last year's T-3 at Lytham. It's payback time at Muirfield, where Tiger lost his Grand Slam bid in '02 on his incredible third-round 81 in the freezing rain.

Evans: Jason Day. The 25-year-old Australian had a third at the Masters and a tie for second at Merion. In just 11 starts in majors, he has five top-10s, including four top-5s. While his best finish was a tie for 30th in just two previous appearances at the Open, Day has the game and experience under pressure to tame Muirfield.