No Octopus Was Harmed in the Making of These Picks
By Merf under Balls in the Air

Check out this list of British Open champions on the Old Course at St. Andrews in the last 40 years: Tiger Woods (2005, 2000), John Daly (1995), Nick Faldo (1990), Seve Ballesteros (1984) and Jack Nicklaus (1978, 1970). Daly has the fewest majors in the bunch with two, and then there’s Ballesteros (five), Faldo (six), Woods (14) and Nicklaus (18).

Even when the women came to St. Andrews for the first time in 2007, former world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa won.

So are we going to see another golfing giant win this week? Stephanie and I break down the field for you. (Octopus Paul was not available. Neither was Nazi Octopus.)

Who is a top 10 player most likely to miss the cut?

Merf: Steve Stricker — In the No. 4 player’s last five majors, he’s gone T58, T30, cut, T52, T23. In his only appearance at St. Andrews, he missed the cut in 2000. But the quote that sticks out to me the most was Stricker explaining why he didn’t play in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am the week after winning at Riviera. “I just don’t care to go up there and fight with that weather too much,” he said. A jet-lagged Stricker who runs away from bad weather playing in the British Open? No thanks.

Stephanie: Phil Mickelson: I guess if he’s going to play well in a British Open, it would be at St. Andrews. But if the weather is crappy like it’s supposed to be, Phil can’t hit it everywhere like he thinks he can. He just won’t play smart when he should. He can’t resist the desire to pull driver when he should settle and hit 4-iron. Sure, Phil is creative around the greens, but he can’t get cute with a lob wedge on a links course.

Who is a player outside the top 10 with the best chance to win?

Merf: Justin Rose — I keep waiting and waiting for Padraig Harrington, but he hasn’t won since the 2008 PGA Championship. So I’ll go with the 16th ranked Rose, who keeps hurling himself into the mix on the PGA Tour. He hasn’t had a top 10 at the British Open since his rousing tie for fourth as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998, but he appears to be finally playing up to those lofty expectations he created 12 years ago.

Stephanie: Padraig Harrington. Two-time Open Champion. His game sets up well for St. Andrews. While he’s not as consistent of a ballstriker as he used to be, there are few who are able to pull off more creative shots around the greens. Plus, he can bunt it around all day and stay out of trouble.

Who is a player outside the top 50 with the best chance to win?

Merf: Chris Wood — Two top fives in his first two British Opens? I’m sold on the 22-year-old Englishman, even if he’s ranked 311 in the world. He’s been a bit inconsistent, as you’d expect, but he has three top 6s on the European Tour this year, so he’s more than a flash in the pan. He was just a par away from joining Stewart Cink in a playoff last year.

Stephanie: John Daly — ’95 British Open Champion! This is where the magic began 15 years ago at golf’s holy grail. I can feel it — this is his week for his great comeback. I had just started playing golf around ’95 and I remember being totally inspired by Daly. Actually, I just recall hearing way too much about his swing. Can you imagine if Daly actually did win and accepted the Claret Jug wearing Loudmouth pants? Oh, classic. As if the Champions Dinner picture wasn’t enough comic relief for a week.

Will Tom Watson have another chance to win?

Merf: I was ready to write Watson off after his first round 7-over 78 in this year’s U.S. Open, but he shot 1-under the next two days to flirt with the top 10 and almost earn an exemption into next year’s championship. No, he can’t shoot a 78 this week and compete, but Watson unbelievably still has gas in the tank. And it’s almost a full tank when it comes to links golf. The scarier the weather, the more I like him. I see him sneaking into the top 10.

Stephanie: Yes. Watson just loves the British Open. He’s like a different human. Brian Gay said that on Sunday Watson was grinding in the practice round and all business. While sipping on his Corona, Gay said something like, “Are you serious? How many times has he played and won the Open? He doesn’t need practice!” And that’s probably why Watson is five-time Open winner and Gay has never won a major. Oh, Watson is also a great lag putter, which is key on St. Andrews’ ginormous greens.

Will Stewart Cink make a respectable defense of his title?

Merf: He’s been hit-or-miss with his last five British Opens (three missed cuts, a T6 and a win), but he doesn’t seem to be in hit mode at the moment. Cink only has one top 10 in the last 12 starts. He might make the cut, but I don’t see much more.

Stephanie: No. Sorry, Stewie, but just don’t see it. He’s not known as a great links player and hasn’t really done anything special this year. In fact, I haven’t seen his name anywhere except for Twitter in a while.

Will Dustin Johnson rebound after his U.S. Open disaster?

Merf: I think you will see his name on the leader board. I’m not sold on his Sunday closing ability, but he’s a bad-weather player (see success at Pebble Beach), who hits it a mile (see former St. Andrews champions Woods, Daly, Ballesteros, Nicklaus). I think he cracks the top 15.

Stephanie: Yeah, he’s great talent and has that “see ball, hit ball, get ball in hole” mentality, which holds up for 54 holes. He’s got all the shots. I’m sure his caddie will just point him in the right direction and he’ll be just golden. At least until Sunday afternoon.

Will Phil Mickelson win his first British Open?

Merf: He only has one top 10 at a British Open, by far his worst record in the four majors. But I attribute that to Phil being Phil. You can never tell which tournaments his putter will show up for, but he has the best imagination in the game, which is what links golf is all about. I expect him to be in contention until the end.

Stephanie: Hell no. (See answer to top question.)

Will Tiger Woods win for the first time this year?

Merf: Woods is so good he’s makes everyone forget what sport he’s playing. He hasn’t won in six starts, and we treat it like a six-game losing steak in the NFL. In two majors, he has two top 4s. That’s pretty damn good. He will plod along, remind us it’s a long haul and say that it’s a process, but I don’t see him being consistent enough just yet to finally win. Soon, just not yet.

Stephanie: I’ve learned never to bet against him, but that was also before he started looking for answers in the wrong places and missing five-foot putts. But still, he had his C game at the two other majors and placed T4. And he loves St. Andrews. I’m not overly worried about this putter switch since if you get the ball within 10 feet, it’s almost a gimme. Oh wait, that’s what we used to say abut five-footers for Tiger. I’m sure he’ll contend…and Old Tom Morris will be rolling over in his grave. At least that’s how some of the locals feel.

Pick a Molinari Brother (to finish better than the other): Edoardo or Francesco?

Merf: Francesco MolinariWe can’t both take the same Molinari, right? I’ll go with Francesco, who has three top 4s in his last four European Tour starts. It’s probably better that he let his brother win last week. You can’t win the Scottish Open and the British Open, right? Gotta pick one or the other.

Stephanie: I like Eddie. He won the Scottish Open

Who will win, and who will finish in the top 5?

Merf: First — Phil Mickelson. When all eyes were on him to pass Woods in the world rankings, he disappeared. He’s being written off a bit because of his track record at British Opens, and he seems to thrive in that type of setting. He flew in under the radar with mediocre play before the Masters, too. He also has top 4s in the first two majors.

Second: Lee Westwood. The most consistent player in the world the last two years in majors.

Third: Ernie Els. He’s making one last push for more majors. He’s still kicking himself for how he threw away the final nine at the U.S. Open.

Fourth: Tiger Woods. Where else would he finish?

Fifth: Justin Rose. I would love this leader board. You can make the case Rose is the hottest player in the world.

Stephanie: Seriously, Merf? You want me to pick lottery numbers? Um okay. Here it goes.

First: Ernie Els. He’s got one major left in him. We all thought it was going to be at Pebble Beach. But the potluck putting on the back 9 didn’t go in his favor. Ernie loves links golf — it just suits his eye. He has an excellent record at the British Open and T2 at the Old Course in 2000.

Second: Padraig Harrington. See my explanation above.

Third: Lee Westwood. He’s my favorite to win — if the tournament ended on Saturday. I mean, I know he won on the PGA Tour recently, but my God, he traded a three-putt with whoever he beat and basically choked his way to the finish line. He’s been in contention consistently at almost every major in the past year, so why wouldn’t he be at St. Andrews? He can’t chip, but good news! — he has the option to putt it this week!

Fourth: Rory McIlroy. The Great Irish Hope. Sorry, Graeme McDowell, I love you, but Rory moves the needle. He moves the ball well and controls the trajectory well. He’s proved he can close when he shot that 62 at Memorial to win decisively. And, you know, I’ve gotta pick one of young guys to make top-five and I like Rory over Ryo and Rickie. (Even though it’s a tough call, but based on experience — not that Rory has much.)

Fifth: Ryan Moore. Just a gut feeling. I watched him play and hit balls and he was hitting a nice low fade. He placed second at the AT&T to qualify. He’s striking it well, loves to get creative with his shotmaking, and if the weather gets ugly, it won’t bother him. He’s more confident this week than I’ve seen him in recent years. Very positive attitude and the course suits his eye. Blah blah blah. Or I just might be dead wrong. Only concern I have is lack of experience, but he insists he feels comfortable and has the lines down.

All right. Your turn.