We were supposed to not care much about the next two major championships with Tiger Woods home on crutches. The British Open was supposed to be anticlimactic and lacking for drama.
After misfiring twice last season — two guys on my Who Won’t Win list last season won a major each — I’ve been perfect this year, nailing both Trevor Immelman on the eve of the final round of The Masters and then again knocking it out of the park with Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open. (I know, I know. Tough call there.)
Now I’m faced with an almost impossible chore with the Open Championship. How tempted will I be with 53-year-old Greg Norman at the top of the leaderboard? What about the weather, which can change in an instant? And is there another major where a no-name has a better chance at shocking the world than the British Open?
But the world doesn’t want to hear about labor pains. It only wants to see the baby. Here are my picks for Who Can Win, Who Won’t Win and Who Will Win the 137th Open Championship.
Who Can Win
Anthony Kim +7 This guy is as much of an up-and-comer as the PGA Tour has seen in the last decade. He’s won twice on two of the toughest courses on Tour this year, and here he is, tied for fifth entering Sunday. He may in the end become the rival to Woods we’ve all been hoping for. It’s his first look at links golf, which most experts figured would keep him from contending. Well, here he is. He’s got game.
Ian Poulter +8 Any Englishman within six shots can win this thing because they at least have considerable experience in this kind of golf. Plus, Poulter’s good, and he doesn’t have to worry about Woods, whom he blasted in a preseason interview. But he’s going to have to be a post-a-score guy, too,
Ben Curtis +7 When Curtis finished his even-par round early in the day, he was tied for 21st. By the close of the round, he found himself tied for fifth. He’s a former Open champion, has validated that unforeseen victory with a win on the PGA Tour and seems to have a knack for links golf.
K.J. Choi +4 He entered the weekend in the final pairing for the second year in a row, and even though he shot 75 on Saturday, he’s a world-class player who’s only two shots off. And when the leader is a 53-year-old who rarely practices, let alone plays, and has a reputation for choking, well, the lead may actually be 4 over.
Padraig Harrington +4 The defending champion tried to choke away last year’s Open on the 18th hole before winning in a playoff, and said on Wednesday that his sore wrist might be too much to handle. But here he is again, in the final pairing on Sunday and only two shots back. The Irishman’s game is built for the Open, he’ll be the overwhelming crowd favorite should the Shark falter early and his expectations are still a shade low because he never knows when the wrist will go on him. A built-in excuse sure is nice in a major.
Anybody +9 Or Under This even goes for the no-names who are within the final few groups, as well as any of the big names (Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Davis Love III, Sergio Garcia). No-names can win the Open, though. Paul Lawrie recovered from 10 shots back on Sunday to win. Curtis won. Todd Hamilton won. The Open is unlike any major in that just about anybody in the field can win.
Who Won’t Win
Phil Mickelson +13 He went the wrong way on Saturday. Sure, he got a tough draw on Thursday and finished with a 79 in nearly unplayable conditions. He then came back with a brilliant 68 on Friday to make the cut and move to 7 over. Saturday featured 35-mph winds, and Lefty needed something from par to 2 over to have a chance. But a 76 later, Lefty’s officially out of it.
David Duval +15 We knew this was coming, didn’t we? He can tell us all he wants about how close his game is, but every time he throws an 83 up there, there’s no explanation. Sorry David, you’re done. Two days does not a comeback make.
Viewers Who Like to See Birdies There wasn’t a single round under par on Saturday. Not a one. If you’re one of those fans who likes to see shootouts and players race up the leaderboard, wait for the Wyndham Championship. Unless the weather relents on Sunday, it’ll be a war of attrition.
Who Will Win
I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Greg Norman +2 This has to be a joke, right?
How? How in the world has this been happening for three days? How? He’s 53. He plays more tennis than golf now. This a major championship, not some Shark Shootout.
And yet on a day in which playing the game of golf was near impossible, Norman not only fires a sturdy 72, he plays the last eight holes in 2 under after a double bogey on the 10th hole. Norman rallied at the end of his round and charged into sole possession of the lead.
But we’ve seen this movie before, right? No professional athlete in the last half century has epitomized “the choke” more than Norman. In my blog on Thursday, when he was initially playing well, I wondered whether Norman was just setting up the golf world for another inglorious fall.
Well, here we go.
I can’t believe I’m picking him to win, especially when Choi and Harrington are sitting right there. But Norman has been through the worst a sport can throw at him, and not only has he walked away, he’s stood upright. His entire legacy in the game could change in an instant on Sunday, or it could suffer further if he tosses up an 82, which could very well happen. (And imagine if he’s standing on the 18th tee with the lead and blows it.)
But who’s expecting him to win? Anybody? Anywhere? At 53, he would easily be the oldest major-winner ever. It would be even more improbable than what Jack Nicklaus did in The Masters in 1986. Nobody thinks he can do this. He may even feel the same way.
But unlike at Augusta more than a decade ago, there’s no pressure on Norman to win. None. And remember, he’s won this championship before. Twice. This is the only major that harbors good memories in his golfing soul.
Picking Greg Norman to win the 2008 Open Championship is the gutsiest pick I’ve ever made in all the years I’ve been writing these columns.
I could look like a fool if Norman doesn’t prevail.
But like Norman choking away a major, that would be nothing new.