Tiger Woods was supposed to win the U.S. Open last month at Merion Golf Club just outside of Philadelphia.
He had won four times leading up the event and, if not for an unlucky bounce off a flag stick and poor drop decision at Augusta National, he may have had five wins after capturing the year’s first major championship. Things looked good for the world’s top player, until he winced hacking out of the deep rough in the first round. We discovered he hurt his elbow at some point during his last win at The Players and was rendered a non-factor.
Phil Mickelson, as he is wont to do, contended. And, as is his custom, he couldn’t hold it together on Sunday and finished second for the sixth time in his career, falling to first-time major winner Justin Rose.
Local favorite Steve Stricker, playing a reduced schedule, was also in position to win his first major, but he too fell apart on Sunday.
Now, the world’s best golfers congregate at Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland for the year’s third major, the British Open – or Open Championship – and neither of those three top American players are favorites. Woods hasn’t competed since he completed his final round at Merion in mid-June due to the injured wing. Since his first appearance at the British Open in 1991, Mickelson has contended exactly twice – a third place in 2004 and a runner-up finish in 2011.
Stricker isn’t even going, opting to celebrate his anniversary stateside.
Rory McIlroy’s game is in shambles. Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia have all proven they don’t quite have the mental wherewithal to win a major, at least to this point.
So, that leaves four-time major champion and defending British Open champ Ernie Els, Justin Rose (2013 U.S. Open), Adam Scott (2013 Masters), Graeme McDowell (2010 U.S. Open), Louis Oosthuizen (2010 British Open) and Charl Schwartzel (2011 Masters) as "favorites" to win, right? After all, they’re the only players ranked in the Top 15 outside of the Woods / Mickelson / McIlroy trio to have won a major.
While those players are very good and have major pedigree, none would be considered your usual "favorite" going into a major.
Just outside of the world’s top 15 players – let’s say from 16-30 – you’ve got four other major champions and some guys you’d figure are "due" such as Ian Poulter, Nick Watney, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.
Favorites, though? No.
Dip down even further the rankings – from 31-50 – you’ve got another three major champions and a bunch of other really good players. No favorites though.
Woods really, really spoiled us from 1997 through the 2008 U.S. Open. He hasn’t been the same since blowing apart his leg in winning his 14th – and here to date – last major at Torrey Pines. He’s contended since then with six top 5 finishes, but no wins.
Instead, we’re seeing a lot of first time winners, champions who backed in thanks to the poor play of the leaders, and maybe even some fluky stretches of four great days.
It speaks to the level of play across the glove that we could see 18 different major champions since that 2008 U.S. Open, with only McIlroy and Padraig Harrington winning multiple majors in that time. It also speaks to how singularly focused and immensely talented Woods really was when healthy.
It also means that this year’s third major is definitely Open.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.