Commentary

Going to the well with Westwood

Originally Published: July 13, 2010
By Matt Willis | ESPN.com

Now that we're well into the summer, I imagine you've hit the links at least a couple times and are rocking some sweet tan lines from your socks, sunglasses and golf glove.

[+] EnlargeLee Westwood
Stuart Franklin/Getty ImagesThe last time Matt Willis picked Lee Westwood to win a major? He finished second at the Masters in April behind Phil Mickelson.

If you're a professional on the PGA Tour, you think that this time of year is a perfect opportunity to add a major title to your résumé. Phil Mickelson added another Masters title already, while Graeme McDowell got his first at the U.S. Open.

Me and the eliminator method of picking winners? Well, I've got a runner-up finish with Lee Westwood at the Masters and just a made cut at the U.S. Open courtesy of Camilo Villegas. Sure, I don't get to collect a check for that, but the pride is something nice.

That simply isn't good enough. See, because what I do via the eliminator method is pick winners. As good as a second-place finish is, it's simply not a win. Go big or go home! So, let's make this take three of 2010, a perfect time to break through, and a perfect venue at St. Andrews.

For those of you unfamiliar with what I do with this little column, I simply pick a winner. Well, maybe it's not too simple or not the method you're used to.

First of all, while many of those who pick go with a hunch or look at some recent finishes and hot play, I use solely statistics, trends and history in making my picks. Furthermore, while most prognosticators pick winners, I'm in the business of picking losers, 155 of them to be exact.

When I take those 155 out of the equation, there's one golfer left standing. By process of elimination (get it?), he's the only one who can win this weekend's British Open. I call it The Eliminator. Let's do it.

First of all, dating back to 1976, only one of the 34 British Open winners has won in his first Open appearance: Ben Curtis in 2003. I look for that trend to continue, which takes 36 golfers out right off the bat.

Next up, look for only those with some prior Open success to make a run up the leaderboard. By my count, 31 of the past 34 British Open winners had a previous top-25 finish in the Open. We start to make a serious dent in the field, taking out 50 of those left.

So, what's next? I need somebody who's bringing at least a little momentum into the event. Nine of the past 10 British Open winners made the cut in their last PGA Tour (not European or Champions tour) start before the Open. Another 20 are left in the wake.

Look for somebody who's been at the top of the leaderboard at some point this season. Five of the past six, and 20 of the past 24, British Open winners had a top-three finish on the PGA Tour earlier that season. That's enough to eliminate another 28 golfers, and we're down to the nitty gritty.

Experience has paid off recently in the Open. Each of the past five winners has made at least 10 previous starts in the British Open. Twelve relative youngins are out, and we're down to our final 10.

Only the strong survive now.

Over the past decade, of the winners who had previously played in a British Open, six of the nine had finished in the top 11 in their last start in the event. That's enough for me to take out seven more, leaving us with just three.

You think I'm using just prior success at the British Open? You're wrong. Nine of the past 13 British Open winners finished in the top seven at that same year's Masters. That's impressive enough for me to take out two of the last three, Ernie Els and Robert Karlsson, and leave us with just one.

I went to the well at the Masters, and I'm going back at the British Open. Give me England's Lee Westwood to take home his first major title at the British Open.

Remember, the numbers don't lie.


The Eliminator: Step-by-Step

1.) Since 1976, only one player has won in his first British Open appearance.

36 eliminated, 120 remaining

Golfers Eliminated:
Jamie Abbott
Byeong-Hun An
Kurt Barnes
Jason Bohn
Alejandro Canizares
Laurie Canter
Eric Chun
Jason Day
Victor Dubuisson
Jason Dufner
Simon Edwards
Rickie Fowler
Tano Goya
Bill Haas
Mark F. Haastrup
Tyrrell Hatton
Jin Jeong
Kyung-tae Kim
Jose Manuel Lara
Marc Leishman
Shane Lowry
Gareth Maybin
Ross McGowan
George McNeill
Katsumasa Miyamoto
Colm Moriarty
Kevin Na
Seung-yul Noh
Ryuichi Oda
Jae-bum Park
D.A. Points
Alvaro Quiros
Marcel Siem
Michael Sim
Shunsuke Sonoda
Paul Streeter

2.) Thirty-one of the past 34 British Open winners had a previous top-25 finish at the British Open.

50 eliminated, 70 remaining

Golfers Eliminated:
Fredrik Andersson Hed
Phillip Archer
Ricky Barnes
Danny Chia
Gary Clark
Josh Cuncliffe
Rhys Davies
Glen Day
Bradley Dredge
Simon Dyson
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
Darren Fichardt
Hiroyuki Fujita
Stephen Gallacher
Ignacio Garrido
Brian Gay
Lucas Glover
Paul Goydos
J.B. Holmes
Jean Hugo
Yuta Ikeda
Ryo Ishikawa
Dustin Johnson
Martin Kaymer
Jerry Kelly
Simon Khan
Soren Kjeldsen
Matt Kuchar
Martin Laird
Steve Marino
Rory McIlroy
Hirofumi Miyase
Edoardo Molinari
Ryan Moore
Koumei Oda
Louis Oosthuizen
Cameron Percy
Tom Pernice Jr.
Tim Petrovic
Ewan Porter
Zane Scotland
John Senden
Heath Slocum
Toru Taniguchi
Steven Tiley
Bo Van Pelt
Nick Watney
Bubba Watson
Tom Whitehouse
Y.E. Yang

3.) Nine of the past 10 British Open winners made the cut in their last PGA Tour start.

20 eliminated, 50 remaining

Golfers Eliminated: K.J. Choi Darren Clarke John Daly David Duval Nick Faldo Ross Fisher Mathew Goggin Anders Hansen Soren Hansen Trevor Immelman Miguel Angel Jimenez Tom Lehman Hunter Mahan Francesco Molinari Geoff Ogilvy Mark O'Meara Robert Rock Adam Scott Oliver Wilson Chris Wood

4.) Five of the past six and 20 of the past 24 British Open winners had a top-three finish on the PGA Tour that season.

28 eliminated, 22 remaining

Golfers Eliminated:
Thomas Aiken
Thomas Bjorn
Mark Calcavecchia
Stewart Cink
Andrew Coltart
Ben Curtis
Sergio Garcia
Retief Goosen
Todd Hamilton
Peter Hanson
Thongchai Jaidee
Richard S. Johnson
Paul Lawrie
Justin Leonard
Thomas Levet
Davis Love III
Sandy Lyle
Colin Montgomerie
Alexander Noren
Sean O'Hair
Kenny Perry
Loren Roberts
Peter Senior
Vijay Singh
Henrik Stenson
Tom Watson
Mike Weir
Tiger Woods

5.) The past five British Open winners had at least 10 previous British Open starts.

12 eliminated, 10 remaining

Golfers Eliminated:
Paul Casey
Tim Clark
Ben Crane
Luke Donald
Gregory Havret
Zach Johnson
Graeme McDowell
Jeff Overton
Ian Poulter
Justin Rose
Charl Schwartzel
Camilo Villegas

6.) Six of the past nine British Open players with a previous Open start finished 11th or better in their last British Open.

7 eliminated, 3 remaining

Golfers Eliminated:
Robert Allenby
Angel Cabrera
Jim Furyk
Padraig Harrington
Phil Mickelson
Steve Stricker
Scott Verplank

7.) Nine of the past 13 British Open winners finished in the top seven in the same year's Masters.

2 eliminated, 1 remaining

Golfers Eliminated:
Ernie Els
Robert Karlsson

Your winner: Lee Westwood

Matt Willis has been a production researcher with ESPN Stats & Information 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.