The year’s third major is here. The 141st British Open Championship starts at Royal Lytham and St. Annes on Thursday. Darren Clarke is defending champion from a year ago at Sandwich, while Tiger Woods seeks a fourth Claret Jug.
1. Lee Westwood – This is a do-or-die kind of week for Westwood’s major hopes. Putting is not as important as in the American majors and his ballstriking will be a huge advantage with 206 bunkers in play.
2. Tiger Woods – He is one of few players in the field with a major win, much less a major win playing a conservative style. Woods won at Royal Liverpool in 2006 with a 2-iron from the tee and could do it again here.
3. Padraig Harrington – Harrington is a two-time champion of the event, winning in some of the nastier conditions in recent memory at Birkdale in 2008. His work with Pete Cowen appears to be coming together nicely.
4. Bubba Watson – Watson has been playing sparingly since his Masters win, but seems to embrace the challenge of throttling back “Bubba Golf” to succeed at Lytham.
5. Ernie Els – The 2002 Open champion is in form and anxious to reclaim major glory one last time. His putting woes will not hold him back at Lytham.
6. Graeme McDowell – Have to like the 2010 U.S. Open champion this week. He hits a lot of fairways and has been showing signs of returning to his dream-season form.
7. Francesco Molinari – The Italian has been runner-up in each of his last two starts on two very different golf courses in Castle Stuart and Le Golf National. He’s got the tee-to-green game to succeed.
8. Luke Donald – Donald continues to struggle to maintain his form in major championships. With the Open in his home country, that may continue. Nevertheless, his lack of length should not hurt him. His inaccurate tee ball might.
9. Sergio Garcia – Site to most of Garcia’s most major heartbreaks, the British Open seems to be where the Spaniard has his best chance to win a major. Paired with Tiger for the first two days, maybe his ’06 defeat will inspire him.
10. Phil Mickelson – Consider it a hunch. Mickelson seems to have found something at Castle Stuart. He needs to play smart golf for four days, however, to win.