Punch Shot: Three big questions for the 144th Open

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Where will Jordan Spieth finish? What are the expectations for Tiger Woods? Set the top three betting favorites aside (Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson), who is the best bet to contend? Our team at the Old Course debates these three topics on the eve of the 144th Open Championship.

  • WHERE WILL SPIETH FINISH?

JOE POSNANSKI: I think he contends. There are many reasons to believe he won’t – lack of experience, the intense pressure of the Grand Slam, unfamiliarity with St. Andrews, weather issues – but he seems somewhat immune to such things. His confidence level is sky high, his game is complete enough, and the Open does tend to reward those who are adept at the 15-20-foot putts. Plus, it would be such a great story. I think he’s in contention on Sunday.

REX HOGGARD: As impressive as Spieth has been this season, history is not on his side at St. Andrews. Of the five players who have won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year, only Ben Hogan in 1953 managed to add an Open Championship trophy to the resume during the same calendar. Spieth will play well and likely finish in the top 25, but he won’t win.

RYAN LAVNER: Well, he’ll contend, because that’s what Spieth does – he’s finished outside the top 20 only twice since February. He won’t be fazed by the pressure of trying to capture the third leg of the Grand Slam. He won’t be unprepared. He won’t get frazzled by the changing winds or the unpredictable weather. All this kid does is stick to his game plan and hole more 20-foot putts than anyone in the game. (No, seriously, he makes nearly TWENTY-NINE percent of his attempts.) He’ll be squarely in the mix come Sunday, in line for even more history, because he hasn’t given me any reason to think otherwise. But the odds are still against him to win.

BAILEY MOSIER: Spieth winning his third consecutive major would be as fairytale-like as the town hosting this week’s Open Championship. It would be too good to be true. Then again, I’ve always believed you can live happily ever after. The man has already proven four times this season that his “winning formula” works, and with a forecast that calls for rain and 40 mph gusts for two of the four rounds, this week’s champion will have to combine skill, luck and patience. Spieth has heaps of the first and last, and after watching DJ three-putt from 13 feet on Sunday at the U.S. Open, I’m convinced Spieth’s got plenty of the second ingredient as well. 

JAY COFFIN: Spieth is playing too well not to contend. Sure, more trips around the Old Course would prove valuable but, simply, the man always finds a way to get the ball in the hole. He’ll play well, be in the hunt for most of the week, but will fall a few shots short and collect a solid top-10 finish. It won’t be the result he wants, and we won’t be heading to the PGA Championship with the Grand Slam on the line, but we’ll all think there’s a chance for most of the tournament.


  • EXPECTATIONS FOR TIGER?

POSNANSKI: This has to be the week for Woods. He’s on a golf course he has dominated, his game is finally pointing north and he seems to be healthy and feeling good. I want to believe. But the word in the question is “expectations” and at this point I don’t see how you can expect him to play well. All you can do is hope.

HOGGARD: Current form aside, Woods is optimistic and it is for good reason following his best finish this year in his last start at The Greenbrier Classic (T-32) and a track record at the Old Course that includes two Open victories. Like Spieth, Woods won’t win but he seems poised for a top-25 finish.

LAVNER: I picked him to make the cut at the U.S. Open and how’d that turn out? It’s funny how one middling finish at an easy resort course can sway public perception, but I can’t shake the feeling that Woods is going to play well this week. Is his game sharp enough to win? No, that’s a leap I’m not yet ready to take, but he showed marked improvement with his irons at The Greenbrier, he looked fine during his practice rounds here and his course knowledge will give him a chance to record another high finish on one of his favorite courses. A top-10 isn’t unrealistic.

MOSIER: Sure, there’s the old adage that you “can’t ever count Tiger out,” but I’ll take my chances of counting him out until he gives me reason to count him in. His play this year has been far too erratic, and the negatives far outweigh the positives. He’ll make the cut, but will finish middle of the pack.

COFFIN: No clue where to go with this one. I always thought this would be the place where he has a chance to play his best and following his Greenbrier showing there’s still reason to believe that. But what is Tiger’s best these days? I’m not sure. He’ll make the cut, play four rounds but will be insignificant by Sunday. A top-40 finish is just around the corner.


  • BEST BET TO CONTEND (THROW OUT TOP-THREE FAVORITES)?

POSNANSKI: Henrik Stenson seems like a great bet. He has the length, the slow greens should help his putting, he’s due. With all the talk about crazy weather coming Friday and Saturday, I suspect this one could go to a European player used to the conditions, which also make Justin Rose a threat. Or it could go to someone who knows this golf course well, which brings Louis Oosthuizen into play.

HOGGARD: The last time the Open was played at St. Andrews Paul Casey teed off on Sunday in the final group only to be run over by Louis Oosthuizen, who won by seven strokes. After a few difficult years dealing with injury, the Englishman has returned to top form and into the conversation at the Old Course with six top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season including a runner-up showing three weeks ago at the Travelers Championship.

LAVNER: Hey, it wasn’t a coincidence that Adam Scott put together his best performance of the year at the U.S. Open with Steve Williams back on the bag. Williams brings the best out of his man, and Scott seems to be back on track after a few months of listless play. Though he’s not as strong of a putter as some of the other top contenders, he’s actually better the farther he gets from the hole with the broomstick putter. The 25-footers at St. Andrews are the “make zone,” according to Justin Rose, and so it’s worth noting that Scott ranks in the top 25 in that category. If he can brush in a few of those longer putts he’ll have a great chance to capture the claret jug and redeem his 2012 collapse.

MOSIER: Lee Westwood. He’s making his 71st major championship appearance, so he has plenty of experience to draw from. He finished runner-up the last time the Open was held at St. Andrews, and held the 54-hole lead at Muirfield two years ago, ultimately finishing tied for third place.

COFFIN: I’m on the Louis Oosthuizen bandwagon, if there is such a thing. His impressive U.S. Open performance, coupled with a victory here five years ago at the Old Course, make him impossible to ignore. The only thing that makes me nervous is that he’s streaky. This season he’s collected five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, but also has recorded four missed cuts. Just a feeling that he’ll play well at a place he loves.