Open experts' picks

October, 4, 2011

Each week of the golf season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories below: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows this track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who can take it low this week), Super Sleeper (an unexpected player who could contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Open.

Want another opinion? Check out's FOREcaster page. senior golf writer Michael Collins

Horse for the Course: Boo Weekley
It's been a strange year for Boo. Nagging injuries have kept him down to his lowest number of starts on the PGA Tour in his career. The 20 times he has teed it up, he's made the cut only half the time with one top-25 finish. With injuries behind him and coming off a tie for 29th last week in Vegas, look for this straight-hitting bomber to be back on form at a golf course that sets up perfect for him.

Birdie Buster: Ryuji Imada
It's been a coin-flip year for the native of Hiroshima, Japan. So far he's played in 26 events, and made 13 cuts. He owns three top-25 finishes with two of those being ties for third. You might not think a guy ranked 103rd in driving accuracy would do well at a course like CordeValle where you have to hit the fairway, but for some reason it fits his eye. That's why he finished T-6 last year and I expect another strong showing this week.

Super Sleeper: Joseph Bramlett
Better late than never for the rookie from Stanford. With all the expectations and pressure that have been on him, it's understandable that he's had a rough season. But he's made his last four cuts on the PGA Tour and now he's playing a course that he got a sponsor's invitation to last year, so he knows what to expect. That's huge for a guy who's made only $178K this year. Expect him to be stopping by the bank on Monday.

Winner: Tiger Woods
Yes, that's right. Even after all the stuff I've been saying about him the past few months I think two things: First, just like when Adam Scott and Stevie Williams got together, and as much as some golfers might publicly deny it, guys want to show off for their new caddie and basically prove that he made the right decision by "joining the team." Joe LaCava will bring out the grinder in Tiger and we haven't seen him grind a 69 out of what would have been a 76 in a long time.

Second and more importantly, sometimes it's not the course but the field you have to beat and this is one of those weeks. After setting the course record (62) at Medalist Golf Club last week, Tiger is playing a tournament where realistically he has to beat only 10-12 guys. Everyone else is gonna beat themselves, struggling for their tour cards or watching what he does instead of focusing on their own game.

Many pros won't admit it, but when his name gets up to the top of the leaderboard on a Saturday or Sunday (we haven't seen that for a while but still), they'll start thinking about how much second place pays instead of trying to win. This is the week we're gonna find out if Tiger's mind is back. I think it is. senior golf writer Farrell Evans

Horse for the Course: Rocco Mediate
His spectacular win last year at the Open on the CordeValle Golf Club got him off his 2008 US. Open hangover and saved his PGA Tour career for another two years. But the 48-year-old six-time winner has played so poorly and sparingly this year due primarily to injuries -- nine missed cuts and five withdrawals in 20 events -- that it almost seems as if full-time golf has become a burden on him. Still, after holing out for eagle four times at last year's tournament, he's not going to miss another chance at stealing the show from Tiger Woods.

Birdie Buster: Tommy Gainey
One of the PGA Tour's hardest-working men, the 36-year-old blue-collar South Carolinian is playing in his 32nd event of the year. He was impressive last week at Justin Timberlake's tournament in Las Vegas with a tie for third. Gainey has seven top-10s on the year. Only Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and Jason Day have more without a win. Two Gloves can become the people's champion this week if he can control that unmanicured baseball-influenced golf swing on the back nine Sunday.

Super Sleeper: Patrick Cantlay
The 19-year-old UCLA sophomore and No. 1 ranked amateur in the world has finished in the top 25 in his four PGA Tour starts in 2011. He had a tie for ninth at the RBC Canadian Open and a tie for 21st at the U.S Open. He earned a trip to next year's Masters with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Amateur.

The Californian is a fearless competitor and he can go low -- he set the course record at the TPC River Highlands at the Travelers with a 10-under-par 60 -- so there is no reason to doubt his chances of becoming the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson took the Northern Telecom Open in 1991.

Winner: Tiger Woods
Perhaps it's a little disrespectful to the ultra-talented PGA Tour to pick a player to win a late-season event who has just two top-10s in eight starts all year, but El Tigre is not just any player. I try to remind myself that this is the same guy who has won 71 tour events and 14 majors.

Yes, the intimidation factor is gone. But he hasn't forgotten how to win golf tournaments. Maybe he won't win by 15 shots and do it in the flamboyant style that we've become accustomed to over the years, but I'm sure right now he would take a win any way he can get it. senior golf writer Bob Harig

Horse for the Course: Rocco Mediate
CordeValle is in just its second year as the venue, and Mediate handled it quite nicely last year, making an eagle during each of the four rounds to win the tournament.

Birdie Buster: Kevin Na
He's coming off his first PGA Tour victory at the Justin Timberlake Shriners tournament where on Sunday, Na birdied three of the last four holes to get his elusive first win.

Super Sleeper: Tiger Woods
He is the star attraction this week, but it's asking a lot of him to win a tournament. Woods is playing for the first time since he missed the cut at the PGA Championship seven weeks ago and it's only his third event since the Masters.

Winner: Louis Oosthuizen
The 2010 British Open champion has to endure an eight-hour time change, but he is coming off a tie for fifth at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland. senior golf editor Kevin Maguire

Horse for the Course: Paul Goydos In just its second year at CordeValle Golf Club, the Open course puts a premium on hitting the ball in the fairway. Goydos stands 14th this season in driving accuracy and is coming off his best outing of the season, so a strong performance appears likely.

Birdie Buster: Hunter Haas
Last week in Vegas, Haas owned the low round on both Friday (61) and Sunday (64). He's made his money at the so-called lesser field events (including a T-3 at the Puerto Rico Open and a T-4 at the Viking Classic) so expect more of the same in San Jose.

Super Sleeper: Patrick Reed
He's not the biggest name among the youngsters in the field -- No. 1-ranked amateur Patrick Cantlay holds that distinction -- but Reed did lead Augusta State to the last two NCAA titles. Not a bad track record to take into just his third PGA Tour start.

Winner: David Duval
The past two times the former No. 1 in the world was in the hunt for a victory came on the Northern California coast -- at the 2010 Open and the 2010 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. After three of four rounds in the 60s last week in Vegas, Duval is 145th on the money list, so he has some work to do to get inside the magical 125. If he can earn his first PGA Tour win since the 2001 British Open, it would be another memorable Fall Series champion.



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