Commentary

Beware the Tiger at Turnberry

Originally Published: July 12, 2009
By Matt Willis | ESPN.com

Using the ol' Eliminator method, I've attempted to pick winners for the season's first two majors.

First, I gave you a sleeper at the Masters in Nick Watney. He had a nice view of the leaderboard during the first round, but just ended up with a quality finish in 19th.

Then I selected Anthony Kim at the U.S. Open, despite his struggles entering the event. His tie for 16th paved the way for his recent run of success.

A couple of top-20s in the majors is nothing to sneeze at, but I'm here to choose guys who just won't pick up paychecks, but big, plastic, novelty paychecks. The trophies are nice, too.

Let me explain to you how I do it. All week leading up to the British Open, you'll see assorted prognosticators and cronies picking who they think will win the British Open. Some will use some statistics, most will just select off the top of their head. I take it one step further.

I use a combination of streaks, statistics and trends to tell you why all but one golfer in the field CANNOT win the Open. Process of elimination (hence the Eliminator) tells us that the man left standing will receive the Claret Jug.

First of all, dating back to 1976, only one golfer has won in his first start at the Open, Ben Curtis in 2003. It doesn't take too much golf knowledge to know that experience counts. Let's take out the 33 golfers who will be making their first Open start at Turnberry.

Not to upset the over-the-hill gang, but, as of late, this has been a young man's event. In fact, the previous 10 and 21 of the past 22 British Open winners were all under the age of 40. The only exception? Mark O'Meara in 1998. You like 33? Well, 33 more are now eliminated from the field.

Remember how I said experience counts in this event? Well, make mine a double. Thirty of the past 33 British Open winners had a previous top-25 finish in the Open. I'm decimating this field, eliminating another 45 from contention, leaving a mere 43 standing.

Best Ball Challenge

If you're looking for a winner from the golfing elite, then stay tuned this weekend. Each of the previous four British Open winners, and 16 of the past 21, were all ranked 19th or higher in the Official World Golf Rankings heading into the event. When the smoke clears, you'll find just 11 men left.

Let's continue the wrecking ball with this nugget: Nine of the past 12 British Open winners got themselves a top-seven finish at that same year's Masters. Ten of the 11 remaining couldn't muster that, so that just leaves one.

I may have gone out more on a limb at the season's first two majors. But this time, look for Tiger to tame the field at Turnberry. Remember, the numbers don't lie.


Eliminated golfers, step-by-step

1. Only one golfer has won in his first Open appearance dating back to 1976. (34 eliminated, 122 left)

Eliminated: Jaco Ahlers, Briny Baird, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Mark Brown, Marc Cayeux, Rhys Davies, James Driscoll, David Drysdale, Rafa Echenique, Peter Ellebye, Oliver Fisher, Daniel Gaunt, Josh Geary, Branden Grace, Stephan Gross, Thomas Haylock, Yuta Ikeda, Ryo Ishikawa, Dustin Johnson, Richard S. Johnson, Jeremy Kavanagh, Martin Laird, Matteo Manassero, Steve Marino, Bryce Molder, Koumei Oda, Alvaro Quiros, Elliot Saltman, Tim Stewart, Steve Surry, D.J. Trahan, Daniel Wardrop, Bubba Watson, Timothy Wood.

2. The previous 10 and 21 of the past 22 winners have been under the age of 40. (34 eliminated, 88 left)

Eliminated: Stephen Ames, Peter Baker, Markus Brier, Paul Broadhurst, Mark Calcavecchia, Michael Campbell, Darren Clarke, John Daly, Ken Duke, Nick Faldo, Retief Goosen, Paul Goydos, Todd Hamilton, Miguel Angel Jimenez, James Kingston, Paul Lawrie, Tom Lehman, Thomas Levet, Davis Love III, Sandy Lyle, Prayad Marksaeng, Billy Mayfair, Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie, Greg Norman, Mark O'Meara, Gary Orr, Kenny Perry, Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker, Kevin Sutherland, David Toms, Bruce Vaughan, Tom Watson.

3. Thirty of the past 33 winners had a previous top-25 finish at the British Open. (45 eliminated, 43 remaining)

Eliminated: Thomas Aiken, Fredrik Andersson Hed, Luke Donald, Nick Dougherty, Johan Edfors, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Richard Finch, Ross Fisher, Brian Gay, Lucas Glover, Mathew Goggin, Peter Hanson, David Higgins, Charley Hoffman, J.B. Holmes, Charles Howell III, Ryuji Imada, Thongchai Jaidee, Shingo Katayama, Martin Kaymer, Soren Kjeldsen, Tomohiro Kondo, Kenichi Kuboya, Matt Kuchar, Pablo Larrazabal, Damien McGrane, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen, Jeff Overton, Rod Pampling, Terry Pilkadaris, Richie Ramsay, Rory Sabbatini, John Senden, David Smail, Brandt Snedeker, Richard Sterne, Graeme Storm, Camilo Villegas, Nick Watney, Boo Weekley, Liang Wen-Chong, Oliver Wilson, Michael Wright, Azuma Yano.

4. The previous four and 16 of the past 21 winners were in the top 19 in the World Rankings entering the event. (32 eliminated, 11 remaining)

Eliminated: Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Angel Cabrera, Chad Campbell, K.J. Choi, Stewart Cink, Tim Clark, Ben Curtis, David Duval, Ernie Els, Richard Green, Anders Hansen, Soren Hansen, Peter Hedblom, David Howell, Fredrik Jacobson, Raphael Jacquelin, Zach Johnson, Justin Leonard, Hunter Mahan, Graeme McDowell, Carl Pettersson, Robert Rock, Andres Romero, Justin Rose, Lloyd Saltman, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Anthony Wall, Mike Weir, Chris Wood.

5. Nine of the past 12 winners finished in the top seven at the Masters. (10 eliminated, 1 remaining)

Eliminated: Paul Casey, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Anthony Kim, Geoff Ogilvy, Sean O'Hair, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood.

Your winner ... Tiger Woods.

Matt Willis has been a production researcher with the ESPN Stats & Information group since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. You can reach Matt at ESPNMattWillis@yahoo.com.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.