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Picking the British Winner
This weekend you’ll find the world’s best golfers across the Atlantic Ocean, each vying for a chance to win the Open Championship at the dreaded Muirfield course in Scotland. The event kicks off Thursday afternoon so today is a good day to scan the board and see which golfers have the best overall chances on a course that weeds out the unworthy and rewards only the very best in the game.
Muirfield is a spectacularly challenging course that is as bare bones as it gets. Long, sweeping fairways of brown grass are nestled comfortably between excessively unforgiving rough patches. Only the truly great survive on Muirfield. In it’s 16 years as a host course for The Open Championship, Muirfield has seen big names like Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Henry Cotton and Walter Hagen claim the Claret Jug. This is not a course – nor a tournament – where the weak prevail.
That’s why many people detest playing in The Open. Though it offers a massive purse, the challenge that the course itself presents is one that only gifted players can succeed upon. So which golfers are posting the best odds to win The Open Championship this year at Muirfield?  
Tiger Woods, as always, leads the board as a +600 favorite and but the renewed Nike athlete does not have the “best” odds to win The Open Championship. With three wins at this tournament overall, Woods will always be a contender and worth considering. But the conditions overseas don’t play well to his power game. Last year, Woods finished tied for third but he is coming off a 32nd place finish at the U.S. Open after a strong performance at The Masters. We’re all pining for Tiger to win another major so we can recycle the rhetoric about his career, but I’m not sure he has it in him this weekend. At 6-to-1, Woods has a good payout but there is better value on the board overall.
Perhaps the best player to start with after Woods is Ernie Els, who took home the title last season. Els is posting +2800 odds to win The Open Championship. The South African wonder has won this event twice, and the cool thing about this year’s tournament is that it’s the site of Els’ first Open Championship win from 2002. Interestingly enough, Els is the only player from the four playoff contenders in the 2002 Open to play in the 2013 rendition. Els has proven successful at this course so he’s a nice outside favorite to bank on. On the big stage, Els can be counted on like many veterans to bring his very best.
Along those lines, newly crowned U.S. Open winner, Justin Rose, is carrying +2200 odds to win The Open Championship in to this weekend. To be frank, the overseas major has never been kind to Rose. His highest finish was fourth as a low amateur in 1998. Since then he has finished no higher than 12th, and has been cut four times in his last 10 outings. Rose has a greater chance of returning to the pack after his illustrious finish at the U.S. Open than he does of winning back-to-back majors. I like Rose a lot, but he’s not consistent enough to emerge victorious on Sunday.
It’s interesting to see that the two Irishmen are sporting pretty strong odds as well. Padraig Harrington is a +6000 longshot to win, and he’s a back-to-back Open Championship title holder. Since then, he’s finished tied for 64th and 39th while being cut twice. This may not be the year Padraig returns to dominate. At least I’m not banking on it.
Fellow countryman Rory McIlroy always gets some press and I’d be remiss by not including him somehow in my preview. Since winning the PGA Championship last year, McIlroy has had a dismal 2013 campaign. He’s a +2500 mid-play to win The Open Championship this year and is coming off a 21st place finish at The Masters and a terrible 41st place finish at the U.S. Open. This is not the year to be wasting time with McIlroy. There is always the chance for greatness, but 2013 has been a cursed season for the fan favorite.
For you Scotsmen out there, the most enjoyable play will be your favorite native son, Paul Lawrie who has a very attractive +10000 number this weekend. Lawrie won this event back in 1999 and it is the only major that the 44-year old veteran will routinely enter. Since finishing first in 1999 he has never placed higher than 34th (last year) and has been cut more times than he’s finished. But at 100-to-1, it’s a fun flier bet with whatever spare change you have kicking around in your sporran.
If you’re going to go with sentimental favorites, Tom Watson has to be your guy. Sure, he’s 63 years old, and hasn’t won a non-Senior PGA tournament since 1998, but with +40000 odds to win The Open Championship, it’s hard to ignore the fun play here. Watson has 5 Open Championship victories on his resume, and almost had a sixth back in 2009 when he finished second. It’s been 23 years since Watson won the Open Championship at Muirfield in 1980 but it’s becoming a trend where a nostalgic name from the past makes some noise at a major tournament. In this year’s Open, Watson should emerge as that candidate.
Obviously, the board is too big for me to gloss over every single player. I’m definitely throwing a flier bet at Watson’s +40000 odds to win the Open Championship because the payback is huge, and despite his age, Watson is a crafty player who has had tons of success at this event.
As for a more reasonable pick, I’m going with Lee Westwood. The 40-year old Englishmen has bad memories from Muirfield, where he was cut during the 2002 Open but he has been quietly coming on strong this season and I like his +2500 number the best out of all the legitimate contenders.
At a course like Muirfield, only the strongest survive. Westwood has been on the cusp of winning a major, but has never actually sealed the deal. The same had been said about the potential of Rose, who won the U.S. Open, and the reigning bearer of the green jacket, Adam Scott. I think Westwood has a nice balance of low expectations, consistent performances and veteran savvy to be a breakout star at Muirfield, which is why he’s getting a decent chip from me as the player with the best odds to win the 2013 Open Championship.

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