#AskLav: Field of dreams for Tiger at Muirfield


With apologies to the green jackets and the blue coats, the year’s third major (which usually requires raincoats) is this scribe’s favorite. 

There is so much to love about the week, from the challenge that links golf presents, to the unpredictability of the weather, to the fact that the great Peter Alliss is in the booth. Hey, we even tolerate the requisite shots of kids eating ice cream on a “warm” summer day. It’s all part of the delightful little package, delivered each morning (in the States, at least) as you sip the morning coffee.

So, as we’ve done in this space before each of the first two majors, this week’s mailbag will be dedicated solely to the Open Championship. 

Here, your questions as we look toward Muirfield: 

Ah, yet another believer in the Breakthrough Slam! A shoo-in, he is not, but Snedeker remains one of the better picks in a tournament that, this year at least, offers no overwhelming favorite. Of course Sneds has the game to win; just last year, of course, he blitzed Royal Lytham at the halfway point, his 10-under 130 matching the low 36-hole score at the Open. Even though those good vibes evaporated over the weekend, his 73-74 dropping him to a T-3 finish, it was encouraging stuff. After all, prior to that performance, he had missed the cut in his previous three trips across the pond, failing to break 70 in all six rounds.

This, though, has been a curious year for Snedeker. The erstwhile Hottest Player in the Game during the first two months of the season, he was first sidelined by a rib injury, and then he scuffled Sunday at the Masters, and only now has he begun to show signs of returning to form, following up a T-17 at the U.S. Open with a T-8 at Congressional. If one player fits the mold of the next in a line of 2013 breakthrough major winners, yes, it’s probably Sneds.

Sounds like an intriguing early-week column! Theories abound.

The Open remains Luke Donald’s best chance to win a major, and in three of the past four years he has finished T-11 or better. So that’s encouraging. Of course, he has also arrived at the year’s third major in better form – he has just three top 10s in 12 starts this season. In the same discussion is Lee Westwood, now 40 and major-less, who should be in contention as long as his putter cooperates.

Going deeper, here are three players who have a great chance to make Muirfield the site of their maiden major triumph: Jason Day, Matteo Manassero and Henrik Stenson. Watch out for Stenson, in particular.

So kind of you to ask. It’ll be my first time playing across the pond, so it should be adventurous. Esteemed colleague Rex Hoggard recently loaned me a 10.5-degree driver head, which could pose an issue if the wind howls. Accuracy off the tee has never been a strong suit, so I’ll put a premium on keeping the ball in play and staying out of the hay. Other than that, I’ll simply have to play the ball a little bit back in the stance, choke down, and swing easy. That’s the standard line, right?

Choice B. Sure, the elbow strain could flare up again, especially with early reports that the rough is up at Muirfield. But after a month off and constant treatment, he should be able to get through the Open without incident. Tiger is the best links player of his era, and he knows how to manage his way around this track, so long as the wind isn’t blowing, the wind chill isn’t 40 degrees, and a needlelike rain isn’t falling.

There’s no wrong answer with this one; I think both will play well at Muirfield. I’d lean toward Scott, who has finished inside the top 30 at the Open six of the last seven years, and, 12 months after that infamous meltdown, could give the claret jug the sweetest of smooches. Playing the best golf of his life, Rose should be in the mix as well, but he has a surprisingly poor Open record – his only top 10 was that memorable week in 1998, when he was an amateur.

Sure do. Loyal readers of this column will recall last week’s ode to the belly putter, and my intentions remain unchanged: I will keep the belly putter in my bag until a first-tee starter snaps the club in half. Which actually could happen on this trip.

Like this question a lot, so let’s break it down a bit more. Back on Jan. 3 this scribe opined that Tiger would win at Muirfield, and that remains my hunch, even if he’s rusty from taking a month off. But this isn’t 2000-02 anymore – if forced to choose, you can’t take Tiger against the field. There could (and maybe will) be another first-time winner at the Open, a conclusion based solely on the percentages – 14 of the last 17 major winners have been first-timers, including the first two this year. Indeed, it’s been a summer of parity.

But Muirfield seems to bring out the best in the top players, which helps explain why since 1959 the Open winners there have been guys named Player, Nicklaus, Trevino, Watson, Faldo and Els. Which, of course, brings me back to Tiger. He’s still my pick to win.