- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- Thirteen years.
That's how long it's been since there was a major championship field that included Tiger Woods but didn't have him listed as the prohibitive favorite.
Until this week.
With Woods coming off a T-78 finish (in an 80-player field) at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the 14-time major winner has seen his listing drop below that of Phil Mickelson in the eyes of most oddsmakers. Such news is interesting, though it underscores the real story here: There is no favorite.
Let's break it down. Woods is coming off the worst four-round tourney of his career; Mickelson shot 78 on Sunday to drop from 10th to 46th; Lee Westwood has withdrawn due to a calf injury. We're left with a field of elite players from which to choose, but really, is Steve Stricker -- with no career major wins -- worthy of being No. 1 in his home state this week? Or Jim Furyk, who owns a scoring average of 74.75 in the previous three majors? Or Rory McIlroy, who is 21 and has only two career wins? Or Ernie Els, who can't seem to be able to put everything together at the big events anymore?
Each of those players is capable of winning this tournament, but none are necessarily worthy of being called the favorite, which means things are wide open here at Whistling Straits going into the event. And speaking of this week's host venue
Here's a fun little party game if you have the time and resources: Blindfold a buddy, strap a parachute to his back and drop him out of a plane, right into the middle of this 7,514-yard behemoth.
Chances are, the experimentee will believe he has somehow jumped continents, figuring Lake Michigan for the North Sea, the gusting winds for those in the U.K. and the entire scene for something more often found in Scotland or Ireland.
It's true that this track looks unlike most other U.S.-based courses, thanks to conditions that are usually unique to Open Championship sites.
As if the European contingent needed any further help.
Players from the other side of the pond represent some of the hottest golfers in the world right now, with nine of 'em in the top 20 of the most recent Official World Golf Ranking. That correlation has carried over into the majors, too. At each of the three so far this season, the number of U.S.-born players in the top 10 has decreased, while the number of European players has increased.
Don't be surprised if the contingent from that continent thrives once again this week. My ranking of the top 50 in the field begins with one of Europe's best who is searching for a first career major title.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
2dLaurence Edmondson and Nate Saunders