Why Tiger Woods won't win the British Open

Updated: July 18, 2006, 12:29 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

You won't win much money betting on golf. Predicting tournament winners is like carrying a 240-yard ravine with a 4-iron -- if you're not dead solid perfect, you're simply dead. Of course, betting against Tiger Woods is truly a squandering of riches. Might as well toss the whole golf bag into that ravine.

You know what? Let's do it anyway. Just remember, you read it here first: Woods won't win this week's British Open. Herewith, five reasons the world's top-ranked golfer won't be on top of the golf world come Sunday evening in Liverpool.

Why Tiger will win
Ron Sirak has a differing opinion on Woods' chances this week. Here are his five reasons Tiger will win. Story

1.
The course

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Woods dominates on courses where he's familiar with the layout, such as Bay Hill, Muirfield Village, Torrey Pines and, of course, Augusta National, home to his four Masters victories.

The trend carries over to the British Open as well. Tiger has won the Claret Jug twice, both times coming at famed St. Andrews, as he's taken a big 0-fer at all other murky venues across the pond. The last Open held at Hoylake occurred nine years before Woods was even born and until recently, he had no reason to check out the old-school links-style course.

Surely, Woods will get acclimated to the course in the days preceding the Open. He'll know what clubs to hit on what holes, caddie Steve Williams will be dead-on with his yardages and there will be a strategic game plan entering the tournament. But nothing can substitute for the competitive knowledge of how to hit a certain shot in the final round gained by having done so before. Royal Liverpool will be a great equalizer this week.

2.
The rust factor

After missing the cut following a second straight 6-over 76 at the U.S. Open, Woods intimated that perhaps he returned to golf too soon while still grieving over his father Earl's death. He returned three weeks later to greater success, finishing T-2 at the Western Open.

Still, this fact remains: Since April 10, Tiger has played six total competitive rounds of golf. For those scoring at home, that's 108 total holes played in 101 days by the time the Open starts on Thursday. Practice is practice, but Woods is hardly battle-tested these days. Expect the rust to show in his game.

3.
The competition

As we've seen in recent years, anyone can win the British Open. Case in point: Todd Hamilton. And Ben Curtis. And Paul Lawrie. Unlike The Masters and U.S. Open, in which only a handful of players will be among the contenders in any given year, the season's third major is veritably up for grabs.

Add to this the fact that the brimming bin of players who can win has evolved past the Big Five of long ago. If Woods is the oddsmaking favorite, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen each follows closely behind, but the list of contenders spreads from Europeans (Colin Montgomerie, David Howell) to Australians (U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy, Stuart Appleby) to up-and-comers (Trevor Immelman, Henrik Stenson) to wily veterans (Jose Maria Olazabal, Tom Lehman), any of whom could prosper this week, finishing above Tiger and everyone else at the Open.

4.
The short game

If you can't make putts, you can't win majors. Woods has proved that time and again, his dead-eye short game often more vicious than the power plays off the tee. That theory is especially true at British Open venues, where imaginative short games are necessary.

Well, nibble on these stats: When Tiger won the British Open in 2000, he ranked second in the PGA Tour's putting average statistic. When he won last year, he was fifth in that category. This season? Woods is toiling at 135th on tour with a putting average of 1.798. He's taking an average of 29.89 putts per round, a number he will need to improve greatly lest he spend 120 total strokes on putts over a four-round span.

5.
The Sunday slide

It used to be that all Tiger needed was the red shirt. Like Superman's cape, once the top-ranked golfer slipped on something in the shade of red -- fuchsia, magenta, ruby, garnet -- the rest of the world's golfers would quiver in his wake, losing their nerves before losing the tournament on a Sunday afternoon.

Don't look now, but the game's greatest closer ever has a Sunday scoring average this season that's, well, average. Woods currently ranks 40th on the PGA Tour with a final-round scoring average of 71.00. Compare that with an average of 69.22 a year ago -- almost two entire strokes per round -- and one has to wonder whether Tiger is still a furious finisher.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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