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Monday, July 15, 2013

The Open Championship - Power Rankings

It’s time to assign some value to the field at Muirfield and compile our power rankings for The Open Championship (British Open). As is the case with all majors, I’ll veer off the course of the regular 12/next5/Feeling Risky to try and cover a larger portion of the field. I realize that there are many specialty games surrounding the majors, which is the biggest reason for expanding this section. Nothing in the power rankings is representative of any expected weather or lack thereof. When it comes to games, I do highly recommend staggering waves in case one proves more advantageous.

We set the table with our parameters for success in yesterday’s preview. Muirfield sets up to be a venue that will produce a thoroughbred, and past Open success in general is highly recommended.

Here we go:
  1. Adam Scott – In his 13 appearances in The Open Championship he owns two top 10s and four top 25s. He’s in the heart of the prime of his career at 33. He now owns a major. He was runner-up at Royal Lytham last year and, that he didn't blame everyone short of the Easter Bunny ala Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie, karma may be on his side to lift the Claret Jug. Recent form is a bit of a question mark, but I’m not sure how much that really matters given his light schedule.
  2. Justin Rose – I know. This is already boring, as I've listed the first two major winners this year in my first two spots. But really, do you disagree? Rosie obviously won the U.S. Open and then went T13 at the Travelers before wisely taking a break. His record in The Open includes one top 10 and four top 25s in 11 starts. He was also T22 the last time Muirfield hosted in 2002. Going back to the formula in our Preview, he’s got a major win (sure, I wish it wasn't the most recent one) and he is 32 years of age and in the sweet spot of his career.
  3. Ernie Els – He’s the dual defender. He won at Muirfield in 2002 and then at Royal Lytham in 2012. He’s a great links player, with his name twice inscribed on the Claret Jug to go with 12 total top 10s and 16 top 25s. At 43, he’s a tad older than we would like but I much prefer experience to youth in this event. The Big Easy tied for fourth at the U.S. Open and has a recent win on the European Tour at the BMW International Open before missing the cut at the Scottish Open last week.
  4. Tiger Woods – Famously tied for 28th at Muirfield in 2002 after catching the bad end of a weather draw for a third-round 81. We don’t know for sure if he’s 100% healthy, but he says he is for whatever that’s worth. Count me as a little surprised if he’s in the hunt through 63 holes, but he fits the traditional mold of Muirfield champions perfectly.
  5. Graeme McDowell – If recent form is any indicator, he’ll either win or miss the cut (3 wins and 5 missed cuts in last 8 starts). He was my favorite going into Merion (and I wasn't alone), but laid a major egg. Figure this one out. He missed the cut in the Irish Open, but won the Open de France. When all else fails, I refer to the formula. He’s won a major. He’s seventh in the world. He’s 33 years old with four top 25s and a top 10 in past Opens.
  6. Phil Mickelson – I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that he won the Scottish Open, so we’ll call it a wash. He’s played better than he’s often given credit across the pond, with two top 10s and six top 25s in past Opens. He’s a four-time major winner, and we've highlighted how Muirfield smiles on those with a hefty resume. I’ll go out on a limb and say that if Lefty’s ever going to win this tournament, it will be this week.
  7. Brandt Snedeker – He may actually come in a bit under the radar this week. I expect the Tiger/Phil/Rory/Scottie/Rosie/Kuchar/Els buzz to render him somewhat anonymous. He’s been a bit inconsistent since returning from injury following his win at Pebble Beach earlier this year, but he’s sneaking into form with a T17 at the U.S. Open and a T8 at the AT&T National. Put together a remarkable showing through 36 holes last year before fading in just his fourth Open, and is another one of those guys in their early 30s peaking (32).
  8. Henrik Stenson – He’s back to 30th in the world. His trend is excellent (T21 U.S. Open, T10 BMW and T3 at Scottish Open). He’s got two top 10s and three top 25s in eight previous appearances. His ball-striking has been good all year and he’s back to the player he was four or five years ago. If you can buy low, do it.
  9. Rickie Fowler – I want to be very clear that I’m not making an across-the-board comparison, but Fowler’s record and age entering Muirfield are reminiscent to Gary Player when he won in his fourth Open at Murfield at the tender age of 23 years of age after two previous Open top 10s in his first three starts. Fowler is 24 with one top 10 and two top 25s in three starts. He also has commented as recently as a few days ago on Twitter that he really enjoys links golf. He’s got top 25s in his last three starts this season, including a T10 at the U.S. Open. Not a bad pick in my book.
  10. Lee Westwood – What’s to say that hasn't already been said? He’s played very well in the majors this year (T8 Masters, T15 U.S. Open) and he’s been solid in The Open Championship (4 top 10s, 5 top 25s in 18 starts). At 40, he’s running out of time fast but this may be the one tournament that still offers him a 3-5 year window.
  11. Matt Kuchar – I may have him lower than most (I don’t know yet), but his history at The Open isn't particularly sterling. In eight trips, he has just one top 10 and that is his only top 25. He missed the cut at this venue in 2002, but that was a different player so it’s borderline irrelevant. He was T28 at the U.S. Open and T49 in France. He’ll likely find his second top 25 here, but I’m not entirely optimistic it will be all that much better. Maybe a back-door top 10?
  12. Thomas Bjorn – Well, there’s his form. He was runner-up at the Lyoness Open and the BMW International Open before “cooling” to a T18 at the Irish Open and a T8 in France. He also has five top 10s in The Open Championship, including a T8 at Muirfield in 2002. It always seems like a surprise (especially to Americans) when guys like this pops up on a leaderboard, but it would almost be a surprise if he didn't.

The following players are others that I really like this week, but have some drawback that didn't allow them to make the cut for my top 12. It is in alphabetical order. For instance, Sergio Garcia was the last guy not to make my top 12, but won’t be the first on the list below.
  • Angel Cabrera – May be the most consistent he has been in his entire career, missing just one cut since the Shell Houston Open and finishing T9 at the Travelers and T13 at AT&T National. Owns two top 10s and four top 25s in past Opens. A two-time major champion.
  • Nicolas Colsaerts – Just doesn't have enough of a track record to boost any higher (1 top 10, 1 top 25), but a T10 at the U.S. Open and a T9 at the Scottish Open render him very dangerous.
  • Fred Couples – There’s always one of the over-50 crowd to make a run it seems, and this year Couples has the best chance. He finishes second about every week on the Champions Tour and was T13 at the Masters. His Open record includes nine top 10s and 10 top 25s.
  • Jason Day – Having a great year in the U.S., he was T2 at the U.S. Open and T21 at AT&T National. The drawback is that he doesn’t have a top 25 in this tournament.
  • Luke Donald – He’s been a top-25 machine in the U.S., with eight in nine starts. His record across the pond is decent, with a pair of top 10s and a third top 25.
  • Sergio Garcia – The Spaniard has been strong at The Open over the years, with seven top 10s and an eighth top 25. Who knows what’s going on between the ears.
  • Lucas Glover – He was T15 at the John Deere Classic last week, and check this stat out. After a hot round with the putter in round two, he shared the 36-hole lead. He then missed five putts inside six feet over the last two rounds (including four in the final round) to miss out on a playoff by…..you guessed it….five strokes. Guys like this are dangerous in majors because you never know when their putting might come close to matching their ball-striking.
  • Branden Grace - I've been a little down on him in 2013, but his playoff loss to Mickelson at the Scottish Open last week demands a look. No top 25s at The Open.
  • Bill Haas – Only one top 25 in past Opens, but he’s been on fire all of 2013 including a win at Congressional.
  • Padraig Harrington – Another late cut for the top 12 ranking, I just couldn't pull the trigger due to shaky form. A T21 at the U.S. Open had me excited until I saw a T73 at the Irish Open and a missed cut at the Scottish. He obviously owns two Claret Jugs and a PGA, so I may regret this.
  • Mikko Ilonen – He has two top 25s and one top 10 in four Open starts to go with a T50 at Muirfield in 2002. He won the Nordea Masters and has a couple of top 35s at the Irish and Scottish Opens.
  • Dustin Johnson – Two top 10s and three top 25s in four Open starts. He’s 29 and a frequent major contender over the years. Plus, the British tabloids will love his girlfriend.
  • Martin Kaymer – Good form with a T4 at the BMW and a T13 in France. Owns a major championship to go with a pair of top 25s and a top 10 in Opens. At 28, he hits many of the key points on the chart for a winner at Muirfield.
  • Shane Lowry – Rory’s buddy is in better form entering this week, with a T5 at the Irish Open and a T31 at the Scottish.
  • Hunter Mahan – He’s got a couple of top 25s and a top 10 in past Open Championships and tied for fourth at the U.S. Open.
  • Matteo Manassero – He won the BMW PGA in May and already has a top 25 in his two Open tries. Several recent top 25s.
  • Rory McIlroy – What’s there to say, really?
  • Francesco Molinari – After missing the cut at the U.S. Open, he’s at least played the weekend at the Irish, French and Scottish Opens leading into this week. Hefty schedule.
  • Louis Oosthuizen – Missed the cut at the John Deere after a promising week at The Greenbrier. Putter seems to really be holding him back, but ball-striking has shown promise.
  • Ian Poulter – A T21 at the U.S. Open and a T25 in France have led him to Twitter in search of a new putter. He’s a decent Open player with a pair of top 10s and four top 25s. Feels like he’s not quite clicking on all cylinders but may not be far off.
  • Charl Schwartzel – His only knock is the lack of a top 10 in eight previous Open Championships. His form has been very good all year.
  • Webb Simpson – He’s only played The Open Championship once, but it went for a top 25. He’s a major winner and is in acceptable form.
  • Bubba Watson – One top 25 across the pond and a recent T4 at the Travelers.
  • Chris Wood – He made some noise early in his young career at Opens and owns two top 10s and three top 25s. Form is good enough to warrant consideration with a fifth at the Volvo and a made cut at the Scottish Open.

We will dive into the normal games tomorrow. In the mean time, feel free to tweet (@RyanGolfBlogger) or email (thegolfaficionado@gmail.com) if you need to bounce an idea in a specialty game.

Best of luck to all!

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