Breaking Down the 2012 Open Championship: Why Tiger Woods is Not the Favorite, Who to Watch, & Key Pairings
Heading into the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes the prognosticators and Vegas’ overall favorite to win the Claret Jug this year is Tiger Woods. Justification for the belief that the former #1 golfer in the world is ready to renew his assault on Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors lies with the fact that Woods has had the most successful year of any golfer on the PGA Tour. Tiger has won three tournaments, is leading the money list and Fed Ex Points, and has the lowest scoring average of any golfer on tour (69.08). And because of his success in 2012 the perception exists that Woods is back on track to show, at the very least, degrees of the greatness that the golfing world was accustomed to witnessing prior to his downfall in November 2009.
However, blurred by the mystical allure of Tiger and the idea of him actually winning his 15th major, these prognostications are about as illogical as they come.
Let’s start by dissecting Tiger’s three victories this season, where Woods sat atop the leaderboard at the conclusion of play on Sunday at Bay Hill, Firestone, and Congressional. All three courses are ones where Tiger has won on multiple times (Bay Hill: 7, Firestone: 7 , Congressional: 2) and consequently his course knowledge and confidence provided him with an advantage over other competitors. However, in every other tournament Woods has played in 2012 his scoring average per round was 1.5 strokes higher (70.6) then his season average and most alarming/pertinent to the Open Championship is Tiger’s scoring average during the Masters and U.S Open, which was 72.5. Meaning, that in the toughest and most stressful playing conditions Tiger was more like the “new” rather than the “old” Tiger.
So why should one think that Woods will play any differently at Royal Lytham & St. Annes?
In fact Tiger has played in the previous two Open Championships held at the course where he scored a 281 in 1996 and a 283 in 2001 for a scoring average of 70.5. In each of these championships Woods finished 9+ strokes off the lead and was only able to break par twice. This is not to say that Tiger can’t improve on his previous performances at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. But it is a fact that some courses simply don’t set up well for a golfer’s game or fit their eye and this may very well be one of those courses for Woods. Least we also forget that two of Tiger’s three Open Championship victories have come at St. Andrews (the third at the rarely played Royal Liverpool) and that away from the Old Course his scoring average per round is 71 and finishing position 23rd in the field.
Still there maybe hope for Woods’ quest as well as the media, sponsors, and fans’ desire for the golfer to return to prominence at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Historically, the average winning score for an Open Championship at the course is 280, with only four of the nine Opens held there having a winning score of better than 280. Meaning that if Tiger plays the course as he has in the past and the field comes back to it’s historical playing average, then Woods should be in contention on Sunday. However, this is a big if and predicting how a field of golfers will handle an Open Championship course and the fickle weather conditions is an exercise in foolishness.
All in all Royal Lytham & St. Annes could very well be the place where Tiger resumes his charge at Nicklaus’ major record, but the his play in 2012 and history with the course says the odds are against him. The betting line for Woods to win maybe around 8:1 making him Vegas and prognosticators’ favorite, but the reality is that everyone should be taking the field.
Golfers to Watch
- Ernie Els: It’s hard to expect much from Ernie Els these days as golf’s “Big Easy” seems to have lost the edge and confidence as of late to come up big in majors and tournaments in general. But course knowledge and game planning is critical when attempting to win majors and Els finished 2nd and 3rd the two previous times The Open Championship was held at Royal Lytham & St. Annes with an impressive combined scoring average of 68.9. Can Els’ experience propel him to the top of the Leaderboard on Sunday or will his lack of confidence keep the Big Easy from having his name carved on the Claret Jug for a second time?
- Darren Clarke: Along with Els, defending champion Darren Clarke is the only golfer in the 2012 field to have shot 278 or better in the two previous Open Championships at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. However, in order to retain the Claret Jug for a second consecutive year, Clarke will have to overcome his average play during the 2012 season (best finish in twelve events is 17th*) and history as there is only a 11% chance of an Open Champion repeating. Still Clarke has the confidence to win and his previous performances at Royal Lytham & St. Annes points to the the Northern Irishman being in contention come Sunday. *Clarke’s best finish prior to last year’s Open with 35th.
- Sergio Garcia: Garcia’s career in majors has been defined largely by the Spaniard’s lack of success and he has given the golfing world no tangible reason to believe that 2012 is finally his year to “break through.” Sergio is winless on both the PGA and European Tours with only 3 Top Tens in thirteen events played this season. Still Garcia finished 9th (five strokes off the pace) in 2001 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes with a 69.75 scoring average. The likelihood of him winning his first major is low, but it shouldn’t be surprising to see him bouncing around the Leaderboard.
Best 1st and 2nd Round Pairing: Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia
The story lines are abound for for the marque pairing for the first two rounds of the Open Championship. Woods is either on the cusp of greatness or disappointment. Garcia is once again stuck with his old nemesis Woods, who has regularly crushed the Spaniard’s fragile psyche. And Rose might offer England its best chance to capture the island’s top prize.
Most Depressing 1st and 2nd Round Pairing: Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy
Donald, the #1 golfer in the world, has historically failed to achieve in majors, Mickelson can’t find his motivation to compete, and only Ogilvy’s name, not his golf game, is noteworthy. Talk about a snoozer of a group with very low expectations.
Most Intriguing 1st and 2nd Round Pairing: David Duval, Raphael Jacquelin, Miguel Angel Jimenez
Duval is the defending Open Champion at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Jacquelin finished 13th with a 280 in 2001, and Jimenez finished 3rd with a 278 in 2001. Can Duval regain some respect on the course where he won his first major? Can Jacquelin become only the second Frenchman to win the Open Championship? Or can Jimenez, the “Most Interesting Man in the World of Golf,” stroll to his first major?
Click here for the complete list of 1st and 2nd round pairings.
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