Punch Shot: Who's the British Open favorite?


With Tiger Woods coming off an elbow injury and several recent major winners playing with sky-high confidence, is there a clear-cut favorite for next week's Open Championship? GolfChannel.com debates who will be the man to beat at Muirfield.


I've often maintained that Tiger Woods is the prohibitive favorite every time he tees it up. While the oddsmakers apparently agree with that sentiment going into next week's Open Championship, I'll go with Adam Scott instead.

The rationale is in the numbers. Since the beginning of 2011, Scott has played 10 majors and finished top 25 in eight of them. He has one win, of course, and could've, should've, would've had another at this tournament one year ago.

The fact is, nobody seems better prepared for majors these days than the reigning Masters champion.

This is also a matter, though, of process of elimination. Woods is dealing with an injured elbow. Rory McIlroy is suffering through a disappointing season. Justin Rose will be hard-pressed to go back to back. Phil Mickelson never plays his best golf overseas.

That leaves Scott as the pre-tournament favorite, which should mean absolutely nothing. If there's anything we've learned from so many recent majors where Woods was installed in that position, being the pre-tournament favorite doesn't mean much once the tournament actually starts. 


There isn’t one, not a prohibitive favorite, at least. When’s the last time we could say that? A compelling argument could be made for five to 10 players, but each would be a flawed choice.

Forced to choose, however, any discussion must start with these three players:

• Co-favorite: Tiger Woods. Reason for caution: He’s rusty, not having played an event since the U.S. Open because of a balky elbow. Oh, and he also has that five-pound weight – his major-less drought, in pounds – strapped to his forehead.

• Co-favorite: Graeme McDowell. Reason for caution: He has three wins in his last eight worldwide starts. He also has five MCs over that stretch. So which G-Mac shows up at Muirfield?

• Co-favorite: Ernie Els. Reason for caution: You could argue that the Big Easy won at Lytham only because a.) Adam Scott collapsed; and b.) He miraculously brushed in putts with the belly putter.

But, you know, you could also add Lee Westwood to this list, since the Open is the major that least requires perfection on the greens, or Brandt Snedeker, who fits the mold of the next winner in this year of breakthrough major winners, or Adam Scott, looking to exact revenge on the major he lost last year.

This year, no pre-tournament favorite is no problem.


The betting houses say this is Tiger Woods’ Open Championship to win or lose, while sentimental types consider Graeme McDowell the man to beat. But both picks have awkward second sentences.

For Woods it is the elbow injury that forced him to miss the AT&T National, while G-Mac has endured almost as many valleys as peaks this season – winning three times around the globe, including last week’s French Open, and missing twice as many cuts.

Which leaves only Ernie Els, the defending champion and the last man to claim the claret jug at Muirfield.

The Big Easy seems to have everything on his side: a game that is rounding into shape at just the right moment, his health and a favorable history at the East Lothian gem.

Els won the BMW International Open with, of all things, a nearly flawless putter. Always considered one of the game’s top ball-strikers, the South African is taking new life from the belly putter for however long he’s allowed to use it.

He also seemed to team with karma last time around. In 2002, the last time the Open was played a Muirfield, Els teed off in one of the last groups on Saturday, was spared the worst of a storm that produced eight rounds in the 80s and survived a four-man playoff for his first Open title.

When picking a favorite, Els delivers the trifecta – good karma, good play and good timing.


Let's face it. Whether he's at full strength or playing with one arm (or one leg), Tiger Woods will be the odds-on favorite at every major in which he plays for the forseeable future – a position that he certainly deserves at next week's British Open.

In this unprecedented era of parity, there exists a large pool of logical contenders, deriving a single 'favorite' from which can be difficult. Major champions such as Graeme McDowell and Ernie Els appear to be rounding into form, but the former has displayed consistency issues this season and the latter must deal with the heavy burden of trying to hoist the claret jug in consecutive years.

Each of the newest major champions, Adam Scott and Justin Rose, appears as likely as ever to contend, but choosing who will play better among the two is tough enough, let alone tabbing one of them as the pre-tournament favorite over the other 155 participants. And while the game boasts a deep stable of talent still in search of a maiden major win, top-ranked players such as Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Luke Donald likely must first follow in the footsteps of Scott and Rose before earning the role of favorite.

So we are left with Woods to lead the field, and with great reason. He has won this event three times prior, and tied for third just a year ago. Though injury kept him from defending his title at Congressional or teeing it up at Greenbrier, he has won four (four!) times already this season – including against an elite field at TPC Sawgrass, where his ailment apparently originated. Woods has earned his spot atop the world rankings with dominant play this season, and despite struggling in his last two starts he deserves to be installed as the favorite at Muirfield next week.


The elbow injury makes Tiger Woods suspect as a favorite.

The last time we saw him, he was shaking out pain after dozens of shots at the U.S. Open. With his sluggish form there and at the Memorial and with his withdrawal from the AT&T National, who really knows where his game is at? As much as his four victories this season may warrant it, he doesn’t go to Muirfield looking like a true favorite.

The view here is that Adam Scott and Justin Rose are the men to beat. They’re my co-favorites with their confidence high going to a championship where they have special motivation to prevail. Scott, winner of the Masters in April, looked like he had the British Open wrapped up at Royal Lytham & St. Annes last year before bogeying the final four holes. Rose, winner of the U.S. Open last month, introduced himself to the world tying for fourth as an amateur in the ’98 British Open at Royal Birkdale before turning pro and missing his first 21 cuts.

Scott and Rose have the confidence, form and momentum to help them win an event that ties up loose ends in their British Open histories.