Muirfield poses prediction quandary for Open
The art of prognostication related to golf tournaments has always been an exercise in futility. With dozens of players capable of winning, the ability of lesser lights to come out of nowhere, and because current and past form is not always a strong indicator, picking names out of a hat might be just as prudent.
Which brings us to next week's Open Championship at Muirfield.
Good luck determining who is going to claim the Claret Jug.
Tiger Woods, of course, is the current betting favorite, and will continue to be simply because that is how gambling works. It's more about whom you will put your money on than it is who is actually in the best form to win.
That said, the No. 1-ranked Woods has not hit a competitive shot since the final round of the U.S. Open on June 16 because of an elbow injury that was clearly bothering him during the tournament. He is coming off of two poor performances after winning four times earlier this year and his form going into the Open is really going to be in question. Can you pick him?
Then there is No. 2 Rory McIlroy, who said he felt "lost'' on his way to a missed cut at the Irish Open. In his past four starts, he has two missed cuts and not finished among the top 40. Can you pick him?
No. 3 Justin Rose is coming off a victory at the U.S. Open, his first major triumph, and clearly he takes good feelings about his game to Murifield. He will be the pick of many, but winning the U.S. Open and Open Championship back-to-back is rare. The last to do it was Woods in 2000. Before that it was Tom Watson in 1982. Rose is having a great year, with six worldwide top-10s. Can you pick him?
No. 4 Adam Scott won the Masters and now has the confidence to win majors. Even his collapse last year at Royal Lytham has not deterred him. But Scott has only three top-10s this year, none since winning the Masters. Can you pick him?
No. 5 Matt Kuchar was a popular choice heading into the U.S. Open after his Memorial victory, but has cooled off in two starts since. He tied for ninth last year at the Open, yet that was his first top-10 in the championship and he has missed six cuts. Can you pick him?
How about last weekend's winners? Jonas Blixt won the Greenbrier Classic for his second PGA Tour victory, but his appearance at the Open will be ... his first in a major championship. Perhaps he can talk to Ben Curtis and Keegan Bradley, who won majors in their first starts -- the only two players to do so going back 100 years.
Graeme McDowell's victory at the French Open was his third of the year and moved him to No. 6 in the world. He's having a great season but … in his past eight starts, he has three wins and five missed cuts, including getting the weekend off at the Masters and U.S. Open. Can you pick him?
"It's been a funny season, inconsistent,'' McDowell said.
So how do you pick a winner?
One thing to keep in mind about Muirfield: It has produced nothing but Hall of Fame champions since World War II -- Henry Cotton (1948), Gary Player (1959), Jack Nicklaus (1966), Lee Trevino (1972), Tom Watson (1980), Nick Faldo (1987, 92) and Els (2002).
That suggests a pretty strong player will come through next week. Figuring out which one is the issue.
It is no secret that the PGA Tour has been plagued by weather woes in 2013. No fewer than 15 tournaments have been affected in some way, the latest being the Greenbrier Classic, which saw a three-hour delay Sunday, the tournament almost miraculously finishing in near darkness.
Jonas Blixt won, but did anybody else? Only one hour of the broadcast was seen on network television as it was switched to the Golf Channel for the conclusion. And players were heard grumbling about the late start and race to finish.
The PGA Tour knew the forecast was poor and could have elected to tee off earlier. That is exactly what happened one week earlier at the AT&T National, where players were grouped in threesomes and sent off the first and 10th tees instead of twosomes off of No. 1. It is not an ideal situation, to be sure, as it meant a tape-delayed broadcast.
But the tournament concluded in proper fashion, without any weather worries. And ultimately, if that scenario can play out, isn't that better than playing in darkness or having to come back for a few holes Monday?
So why didn't the tour go earlier Sunday? Apparently Greenbrier owner Jim Justice stepped in and said no. He didn't want an early start, and given that he spends a lot of money with the tour and is a valued sponsor, his opinion carried the day.
Now it should be noted that early starts are not great for fans, who have less golf to see over a shorter time window. Tape delay does not help the tournament or its advertisers. Justice was looking out for his interests, and people spending the money should have a say.
But once the competition starts, it should be up to the field staff, the officials on site who run the event from an operational standpoint. Perhaps that is not prudent in a sports world with big-money implications, but what could be more important than the competition itself?
Johnson Wagner, who was in contention, complained afterward about the tee times not being moved up. He tried to make clear that, ultimately, he was responsible for his own poor play on the final day. But he nonetheless wasn't pleased.
"It was dark, it was really dark,'' said Wagner, who was the 54-hole leader but tied for second after a final-round 73. "We should have played threesomes early [Sunday] morning. Not that [it] would have made any difference with my round, but the last few holes I felt like we were just trying to finish.''
It seems the tour takes its chances with weather dilemmas haphazardly. Sometimes they move up the tee times; sometimes they don't. At the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this year, the weather forecast was clearly bad, and yet the tee times were not changed, and sure enough, a brutal storm passed through, necessitating a Monday finish.
Two weeks ago, it moved up the tee times and got done before the weather came in.
It's always a tough call. Nobody wants a full day of golf completed by early afternoon. But sometimes the situation calls for it.
1. Phil Mickelson. A final-round 66 that bested the top contenders by 4 strokes will go down as one of the game's great rounds.
2. Henrik Stenson. He has had his share of low moments since winning the Players Championship, but made a strong run at becoming the first Swedish man to win a major championship.
3. Hideki Matsuyama. Recently turned pro, Matsuyama of Japan stayed on the leaderboard at Muirfield. He now has made the cut in all four majors he has played, having won twice this year on the Japan Tour.
1. Lee Westwood. At various times over the weekend, he had a three-shot lead at the Open. But he could not close, which will lead to the inevitable questions about whether he'll ever win a major.
2. Tiger Woods. His scores got progressively worse. Though that worked to get him a major before -- Bethpage, 2002 -- it was not the formula at Muirfield, where Woods posted his eighth top-six finish in the past 17 majors without a victory.
3. Rory McIlroy. He didn't even come close to making the cut, and now has dropped from the top spot in the world beginning the year to No. 3 behind Woods and Mickelson.
Open Championship watch
Tom Watson shot three rounds in the 60s at the Greenbrier and finished tied for 38th, a very respectable showing for the 63-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup captain, who is in the midst of a rather daunting stretch of golf.
Prior to the Greenbrier, where Watson is the pro emeritus, he competed in the Senior Players Championship. This week, he is in Nebraska for the U.S. Senior Open, a tournament where he has three runner-up finishes and three other top-5s but has never won.
After the tournament at Omaha CC, Watson heads to Scotland for the Open Championship at Muirfield, where he captured one of his five Claret Jugs in 1980. Watson also won a Senior Open Championship at Muirfield.
And if that isn't enough, Watson then heads to Royal Birkdale in England for the Senior Open Championship. Birkdale is where Watson captured his last Open Championship in 1983.
Ted Potter Jr. posted just his second top-10 since winning the Greenbrier Classic last year, shooting four rounds in the 60s to tie for sixth. ... Davis Love III's tie for ninth was his first top-10 finish of the year. ... Graeme McDowell is now second in the European Tour's Race to Dubai behind Justin Rose after his victory at the French Open. ... There are 26 players in this week's John Deere Classic field who are exempt for next week's Open Championship. If the winner is not already exempt, he gets a spot in the field at Muirfield. Once again, the tournament will sponsor a charter flight that will take players to the Open on Sunday night. … This week's Abderdeen Asset Management Scottish Open is missing some notable names, including the likes of Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood. But Phil Mickelson is playing there again, as is defending Open Championship winner Ernie Els. ... Inbee Park returns to competition this week in Canada at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. She also is scheduled to play next week's Marathon Classic in Ohio, her last start before the Ricoh Women's British Open at St. Andrews (Aug. 1-4).