Top 10 Favorites At The 2013 Open Championship

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Top 10 To Watch — 2013 Open Championship

Open Championship
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If there’s one tournament above all others that echoes the history of golf, it has to be The Open Championship. The sites selected to host this event are the best of the best, representing golf the way it was originally played centuries ago. This year, Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland gets the honor of holding the Open for the 16th time in course history. It originally joined the Championship rotation in 1892, a mere nine months after the course was completed.

Muirfield is a classic links-style course, designed by Old Tom Morris and built with somewhat wider fairways than most Open courses are known for. What makes it unique is that, unlike most links that feature a traditional out-and-back design, Muirfield features a rotation in its design that will make the winds even more difficult to work with.

Speaking of the weather, with the conditions in Scotland having been relatively hot so far this summer, reports from the course are it is playing quite fast, meaning not only will players have to find the fairways and greens, but find the control to hold them as well. Winds will be an issue as always, but it doesn’t appear we’ll have anything like the gale-force storms that came through in 2002.

For all the unpredictability that the Open provides it’s worth noting that Muirfield is one of the few venues not to feature a “surprise” champion. Winners in golf’s modern era include names like Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els. Jack Nicklaus won the first Open title of his career here in 1966, and even named his own course — Muirfield Village in Ohio — after it.

So who do I think has what it takes to take home one of the most prestigious titles in golf? Just like the list of past champions at Muirfield, my top-10 doesn’t feature any real surprises. Every player has reached a certain level of success in golf, and while not all of them have shelves full of major championship trophies, they could always start a nice collection with a Claret Jug.

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10. Dustin Johnson

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Dustin Johnson is perhaps the biggest "stretch" on my list, but even that isn't going really far. Johnson has absolutely had his struggles this year between three missed cuts and a few injury withdrawals, but when he's healthy, he could make some serious noise in a tournament like this one. He's enjoyed the Open in recent years with three straight top-15s, including the second-place finish in 2011.

Johnson is known as much for his incredible length driving the ball as he is for his, well, unpredictable accuracy from the tee. As fast as Muirfield is expected to play, though, that could work right into his plan. Johnson will rarely need his driver this week, which should lead to more fairway woods and long irons off the tee. This should help keep his ball in play. Johnson ranks 27th in strokes gained putting and 12th in birdie-or-better conversion, so the potential for some solid scores is always there.

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9. Bill Haas

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Bill Haas comes into the Open Championship with his game in top form. The winner of June's AT&T National, Haas followed that performance up with a tie for ninth in the Greenbrier Classic. He leads the PGA Tour with eight top-10s this season alone.

Haas is just one of those guys who doesn't have any huge, glaring flaws in his game. He's an excellent ball-striker, ranked 10th in the all-around and seventh in greens in regulation. I don't expect to see Haas get into too much trouble at Muirfield, but if he does, his ability to find pars will serve him well.

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8. Lee Westwood

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If there's ever going to be a time for Lee Westwood to win that elusive major, this week at Muirfield might be one of his best opportunities. The former No. 1 player in the world has had his ups and downs in 2013, but his ties for eighth in the Masters and 15th in the U.S. Open show he was ready to get up and compete for the biggest prizes in the game.

In the last two years, the Open hasn't been too kind to Westwood, as he missed the cut in 2011 and finished 45th last year. Still, he ranks 17th in adjusted scoring on Tour in 2013. His ability to get out of trouble, like Haas, will serve him well. Westwood ranks 27th in sand saves and ninth in scrambling this season.

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7. Ernie Els

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Deciding where to place Ernie Els in my top-10 was a difficult choice. He's defending his 2012 Open title, as well as coming in as the winner of the last Open at Muirfield in 2002. That's a whole lot of pressure for a player who was hardly considered to be a contender just 12 short months ago.

After his fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open and victory at the BMW International Open, his game looks to be in great shape. He had a rough go of things at the Scottish Open, which will certainly play more like the Open than either of those previous events, but he's going to get the benefit of the doubt with the form he's shown in Opens past. This one isn't about stats; it's about "the Big Easy" being a gamer when it comes to this tournament.

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6. Adam Scott

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The first of the 2013 major winners on my list, Adam Scott has been down a bit in recent weeks, struggling at both the U.S. Open and the AT&T National. Still, the world's No. 4 player has got to be coming into Muirfield this week with at least a few memories of last year's final-round 75, letting the Open Championship that seemed to be his for the taking just slip away.

Now that he's got the major championship monkey off his back, I have to think that motivation to redeem last year's poor finish will outweigh any rust from his limited play since the Masters.

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5. Graeme McDowell

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Graeme McDowell is an interesting case for the tournament. If you only follow his performance on the PGA Tour, you'd probably think he doesn't stand a chance. In his last four events on this side of the Atlantic, McDowell has missed cuts at The Masters, the Players and the U.S. Open. In the middle of those events, though, he won the RBC Heritage. On the European Tour, McDowell comes in riding the momentum of his French Open victory. He's also got a victory at the Volvo Match Play in recent months.

Simply put, McDowell's game works very well in the conditions that he'll be facing at Muirfield. He keeps the ball in play well from the tee, and he's able to scramble for par if he gets in trouble with some excellent putting. He'll be highly motivated to improve on his career-best tie for fifth in last year's Open.

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4. Brandt Snedeker

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Even though Brandt Snedeker struggled with a rib injury earlier this year and missed two cuts in the month of June, he comes in with a bunch of momentum and a real chance to win a Muirfield. Snedeker tied for third at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's last year, and he's got some solid finishes in big events this year with a tie for sixth at the Masters and 17th at the U.S. Open.

Snedeker is another one of those players with no glaring weakness in his game, as he ranks third in the all-around, ninth in scoring average and 10th in birdie-or-better conversion. It's really just hard to envision too many non-weather scenarios that don't have Snedeker in contention deep this weekend.

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3. Tiger Woods

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Well, I tried to put Tiger higher than this. Really, I did. I still believe that, when he's healthy, Woods is the best player on the planet, and it would then follow that he should be the favorite in most events he enters. For major championships, that just isn't even a question. He'll play through anything for the majors.

Still, Woods is playing this week for the first time since he tied for 32nd at the U.S. Open, and although he says his elbow is fine, it will be interesting to see how well he holds up if he has to dig it out of the wheat field that passes for rough this week. I could rattle off all the stats he's got this year, but it all comes down to one number: one. If we had just one more week to see Tiger play before this tournament, he'd probably be my unquestioned top player. Even though I hope he's got it, we'll have to wait and see.

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2. Justin Rose

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Justin Rose already has the U.S. Open on his resume this year, and he'll be trying to add the "real" Open this week. He's only played once since his victory at Merion. He finished tied for 13th at the Travelers Championship the week after, citing fatigue from his whirlwind schedule as a factor in why he didn't perform better on Sunday.

This week, rest will be no such issue for Rose. The 32-year-old is absolutely on top of his game, and has some experience at Muirfield to draw on, having finished tied for 22nd there in the 2002 Open. It wouldn't surprise me if he added another major to an already-impressive resume.

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1. Phil Mickelson

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The usual dogma as it relates to Phil Mickelson's Open Championship chances has always been this: "he's a phenomenal player, but his game just doesn't set up well for links-style golf". Honestly, I don't think that's the case at all anymore. He's shown an incredible desire to improve his play in Europe, and took down last week's Scottish Open for his first victory across the pond in 20 years.

He finished second in the Open as recently as 2011, and he's got a clear plan for this week at Muirfield. He's taking the driver completely out of play in favor of a 64-degree wedge that will allow him to be much more creative around the greens. He hits the ball plenty far to contend with a 3-wood or even a long iron. His key is going to be getting greens in regulation. He leads the Tour in birdie conversion percentage, and with Open Championship conditions that could change at the drop of a hat, every scoring opportunity will be gold.

Nothing is certain, but everything adds up to make this look like Lefty's best shot at the Claret Jug in the last several years.