Outside the box Open selections
If your fantasy golf league allows you to choose a player only once a year and you have already used Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- or if you don't want to waste Tiger or Lefty because you've done poorly in the portion of your league's season that ends at the British -- you'll need some outside-the-box picks this week.
This week I'll shoot holes in four players who have been most commonly touted as candidates to win at Hoylake, a course that hasn't been in the British Open rota since 1967. Hoylake is relatively long with narrow fairways, but not as long and narrow as Winged Foot. Conventional wisdom at the U.S. Open had us looking for shorter, more accurate players as favorites. For the most part that's exactly what happened, although winner Geoff Ogilvy and co-runner-up Phil Mickelson will never be confused with Jeff Sluman. Here's who I'm not picking this week...
Colin Montgomerie: Sure, the Scot was a solid second at the U.S. Open and doesn't have to face the pressure this year of trying to win a British Open in his native country. And yes, I know, Monty is playing his best golf in several years -- his T-24 at the Scottish Open is his worst finish in his last six events. However, Montgomerie is 0-for-58 at majors, and that kind of streak doesn't come to an end on a whim. When Mickelson won The 2004 Masters in 2004, he had played nearly four fewer years' worth of majors than Montgomerie. In recent memory, only Tom Kite, who won in his 67th try at the 1992 U.S. Open, broke through after playing more majors than Montgomerie. Mark O'Meara came close, winning The Masters in '98 in his 57th major start. Montgomerie also is 43 years old, past the age of the usual first-time major champ. In fact, he's past the age of the usual major champ, period. But if you're looking for something to hang your hat on, the oldest British Open winner in the last 90 years came at Royal Liverpool when 44-year-old Roberto de Vicenzo won in 1967.
Geoff Ogilvy: There's nothing wrong with the U.S. Open champ, but history will be working against him. Simply put, would you place the Australian on this short list of golfers: Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Craig Wood, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Nick Price, Tiger Woods? Those 12 superstars are the only players ever to win back-to-back majors in the same calendar year. All but Wood and Woods (not eligible) are in the Hall of Fame. Of course, you could counter that winning the British would put Ogilvy closer to elite status, and that his career is not far enough along to say he could ever be mentioned in the same breath of the divine dozen. But you probably wouldn't believe that, either.
Phil Mickelson: Not much of a world traveler, Mickelson doesn't adjust well to playing outside the U.S. and hasn't been much of a factor in the British Open. Now that he doesn't have the Grand Slam quest to carry him through the tough times, I wonder what his motivation will be if he starts poorly. He struggled in his return to competition at the Western, another tournament he doesn't play well. It's hard to change history, and although Phil is one who can do it -- he already has twice, changing his reputation from major choker to major champion and back again -- the only time he really had success on the British Isles was in 2004, when he finished third after winning The Masters and finishing second at the U.S. Open. Hmmm. Does that sound familiar?
Any other American not named Tiger Woods: Just how comfortable are you picking Jim Furyk, who has missed the cut at the British Open the last five years? After Tiger, Phil and Furyk, there's a dearth of candidates. Former major champions David Toms (bad back) and Justin Leonard (birth of his third child) have withdrawn from the field. Davis Love III and Chris DiMarco are having awful seasons, and Kenny Perry and Scott Verplank don't come to mind when thinking British Open. Really, the best bet is probably Fred Couples, a sure sign of how far American golf has dropped.
So who does that leave to win the British? There are several candidates, all of whom can be downplayed as easily as Monty and company. Pick them at your own risk.
David Howell: Originally I wanted to discount Howell's candidacy because everyone seems to be picking him as a dark horse. It's similar to when Joe Rudi was so universally regarded as the most underrated player in baseball in the 1970s that he actually became overrated. But Howell is a solid choice. Now 10th in the World Ranking, the English golden boy hits the ball straight, can get up and down with the best of them, putts extremely well and has never been accused of insulting the Queen. In fact, his putting is the reason I like him. Fourth on the European Tour, he should have no problems on the greens at Hoylake, which should be slower than the cement floors at Winged Foot or Augusta. He stands a good chance of becoming the first Brit to win the British Open since Paul Lawrie back-doored his way to the 1999 Open Championship.
Padraig Harrington: You have to like the way Harrington rebounded from his less-documented debacle at the U.S. Open. After making triple-bogey 7 at the 18th hole Saturday, taking himself out of contention before the final round, the Irishman bounced back with a T-2 at the Booz Allen Classic. Looks like he's in better competitive shape than Mickelson.
Tiger Woods: Woods stayed at soccer star Michael Owen's mansion early this week while the footballer was in the U.S. for surgery, and Tiger didn't just mind the store all day. He played Hoylake -- a 20-minute helicopter ride away -- several times and cleared the unfamiliarity with the course that had journalists all worked up at the Western Open. Reporters jumped on Woods' words when he said he hadn't seen the course, indicating that he would go into the British Open with a big blind spot, not once figuring that Woods still had time for a close-up inspection. The defending champ will be ready this week. Also to his benefit is that the course plays to a par 72. Tiger has won 10 majors, eight coming on par-72 courses (four at Augusta, two at St. Andrews, and one each at Medinah and Valhalla).
Sergio Garcia: At one time Garcia could do nothing right in the British Open, but with four top-10 finishes in his last five outings at golf's oldest major, Garcia is a real threat to win one sooner or later. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open because of inconsistencies during each round. He was one over on the back nine Thursday and the front nine Friday, but he couldn't play a lick on his other 18 holes.
John Antonini is a senior editor for Golf World magazine
135th British Open Championship
Where: Royal Liverpool GC
Yardage/Par: 7,258 yards; par 72
2006 champion: Tiger Woods
Purse: $7,490,400 (Winner: $1,338,480)
• Forde: Open win Tiger's ultimate tribute to Earl
• Sobel: Tiger changes his stripes
• Sirak: Tiger wins one for Pops
• Sobel: Tiger will break Jack's record
• Harig: Fellow contenders wilt in Tiger's presence
• Photo galleries: ESPN.com | GD.com
• Round 4 highlights
• Tiger talks about the win
• Tirico, Faldo, Azinger analysis
• British Open final hole marred by demonstrators
• Final-round recap
• Forde: This is your chance, Sergio
• Harig: Great leaderboard gives Hoylake acceptance
• Sirak: Tiger leaves the door open
• Sobel: What each contender needs to do (and avoid)
• British Open Round 3 highlights
• Tiger talks about his lead
• Photo galleries: ESPN.com | GD.com
• Third-round recap
• Forde: The Claret Jug is Tiger's
• Sobel: Tiger's talent breeds luck on 14th hole eagle
• Harig: Els chasing Woods ... again
• Forde: DiMarco climbs leaderboard with heavy heart
• Photo galleries: ESPN.com | GD.com
• Round 2 highlights
• Tiger talks about his round
• Sobel: Round 2 analysis
• Second-round recap
• Forde: Tiger may have Open in the bag
• Forde: Early leaderboard a veritable United Nations of golfers
• Harig: Ballesteros conjures images of yesteryear
• ESPN.com Round 1 photo gallery
• First-round recap
• British Open leaderboard
• On the Tee at the 2006 British Open
• Woods, Faldo in same grouping
• British Open field
• British Open past champions