We've gathered the golf staff, all found hanging out at the 19th hole, and asked their views on matters relating, however tangentially, to the upcoming Open Championship at Muirfield in Scotland.
1. Remember Steve Jones, who won the 1996 U.S. Open and no other majors? How about Rich Beem, whose lone moment of major glory was his 2002 PGA? Of the following list of recent first-time major winners -- Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Adam Scott and Justin Rose -- which is likeliest to win another major? And which is likeliest to be one-and-done for his career?
Most likely to win another one has to be Adam Scott. The Masters was a burden-lifting victory, and the renewed freedom he probably feels should allow him to contend in a ton of majors to come. My only concern with him is what impact the anchoring ban will have on him in 2016, as going to that method really helped to rejuvenate his game.
As for who will be one and done, it has to be Martin Kaymer. First of all, let's be real: if it's not for Dustin Johnson's not reading the rules sheet (or the PGA of America arguably messing up their definition of a bunker), Kaymer is never in that playoff to have a chance to win a major. Second, while he got to No. 1 in the world, his game has been inconsistent as best since, with swing changes hampering his ability to contend at multiple venues. Does he have the talent to contend again in a major? Absolutely. But does he have the consistency to? That's the big question in my mind.
I'd have to agree that Kaymer is the one who feels like he might fall into the one-and-done category. I have to admit, though, nobody on that list feels like a Shaun Micheel or Rich Beem. When each of the guys on the list won, it felt like the beginning of something big. That said, odds are that more than one of those guys will end up with just one major win at the end of his career. While we're at it, I doubt we'll see anything like what we witnessed during that span where a bunch of no-names won majors for quite a while. There's simply too much top-end talent out there. As far as who will win again? I think the question should be, who'll be the next to win again? I see several players on that list that should win another major. Rose and Scott seem the likeliest.
Even without his recent triumph at the 2013 U.S. Open, my general feeling was Justin Rose would be a multiple major winner given his impeccable ball-striking and his impressive resume that included everything BUT a major coming into Merion. This list is loaded with talent that will undoubtedly produce more than one multiple major winner, but Rose in my mind will have the most when it's all said and done.
In regard to one-hit wonders, much has been said about my first choice Kaymer, but consider Webb Simpson for a moment. Although in the early stages of his career with just eight major starts to his name, Simpson's only Top-10 at a major is his win at Olympic Club, which in my opinion he backed into as both Furyk and McDowell faltered on Sunday. Not to say he won't have a great career with many PGA Tour wins, but Simpson could very well have reached the peak of the mountain at the 2012 U.S. Open.
I'll make it a clean sweep for Kaymer on Most Likely to Recede. In the wake of his win at the PGA, I thought he was destined for more majors, and I said so on this site. But since then, he's shown me very little. As for who's the most likely to win another, do I really get to be the first guy to say Graeme McDowell? He's got plenty of game, he's an accomplished grinder, and he has the mental makeup to win under pressure. I say he catches Rory McIlroy at two majors before Rory gets to three.
2. It's been my theory for a while now that the best picks for the three majors outside the Masters are players who come in under the radar. Considering that non-American players often fare well at the British Open, who are some players that might fit this criteria this year?
My first thought is Sergio Garcia ...
What if I told you there was a player who earned a Top-10 at last year's British Open, shot 68-68 at Augusta on the weekend to tie for sixth at this year's Masters, is just 23 years old and is receiving no hype whatsoever? Yes, there is such a player, he goes by Thorbjorn Oleson. The young Dane sensation has done nothing but show up at big events, with the two aforementioned Top-10s in just five major starts, not to mention another such finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational this year. He's destined for stardom, and there'd be no greater place to break through than at Muirfield for the season's third major.
How about throwing Jonas Blixt in there? The guy won on the PGA Tour at Greenbrier, which was a follow-up to his first win at the Frys.com Open last October. He's consistent, no frills, doesn't get any spotlight, should fly under the radar at the Open and is one of the hottest golfers on the planet at the moment. Got to watch out for him at Muirfield.
I'll take Richard Sterne. His second-place showing in the French Open foretells a strong finish to the season. He's improved in just about every significant statistical category over 2012 and 2011 and has a stroke average of 69.66, second on the Euro Tour. He's just 34th in the OWGR, but is fourth in the Race to Dubai. (Of course, I'll be rooting for my favorite pro, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and who knows?)
I'm all for those Sterne longshot tickets. I can't believe he was 100-1 last I checked.
3. Muirfield, the site of this year's British Open, is arguably the greatest golf course in the world, producing legendary champions like Vardon, Hagen, Player, Nicklaus, Trevino, Watson, Faldo and, most recently in 2002, Els. Will history repeat itself again with another Hall-of-Fame type of champion or will a Todd Hamilton or Ben Curtis of the field emerge as champion this time around?
My inclination is to go against the flow here and go with a relatively unknown player to throw a wrench in the history books.
I said earlier that the days of unknown players winning majors are likely over for the near future because there seems to be so much top-end talent out there. But if an unknown player were to win a major, it seems like the British Open would be the place. Then again, "unknown" is subjective. Unknown in the States is different than unknown in Europe. To answer the question: I fully expect a familiar face to hoist the trophy this year.
It makes TV executives hold their breath, but I absolutely think we're on our way to continuing to have some of the most wide-open majors golf has ever seen. I have absolutely no idea who will win, and I honestly think with the way weather affects this championship, Tiger has as good a shot to win as Kiradech Aphibarnrat. OK, maybe not. But I think you get my point.
The AP notes that the British is the only major in which there have been zero winners from inside the Top 10 in OWGR the last five years. That would seem to militate against front-running. But the other tidbit in the AP story is that every winner at Muirfield since World War II is in the World Golf Hall of Fame. That, to me, is the more compelling angle. I think this course suits the game's elite, so I'd go with the chalk this time around. Historically, the major that's most likely to produce a "who's he?" winner is the PGA.
4. Who is the biggest name player you don't expect to ever get over the hump in a major?
Put me down for Lee Westwood. He's 40 now. The putting problems are only going to get worse. The major breakthrough should have happened by now, and he knows it. (I still think Sergio Garcia could be fixed -- maybe -- with the right sports psychologist. Maybe I live in a dream world.)
I'm with you on Westwood, he always seems to climb in the back door to get Top-10s at the majors, but he's rarely a threat to win. Another name that I would have said prior to this year is Steve Stricker, but his reduced schedule seems to be paying dividends. He should be a factor at the PGA next month.
Steve Stricker. Still one of the best players out there, now semi-retired, which means no traveling to the Open Championship and only three chances per year to get it done. He seems really content to finish his career without a major championship, but trying to get to that sacred mark can lead to trying too hard and very odd occurrences, like the shank and two balls out of bounds on Sunday at Merion.
I'm slightly more bullish on Westwood than I was a year ago, but that's like saying I can outrun a tree. His move to the States last winter, with an eye toward enabling him to put in more practice time, seems to have made him a better player than he was before, so I think he has a decent chance to pick up a lone major. Stricker is probably the better pick, simply because he's now older than any guy to win a major other than Julius Boros in 1968. The field is just so deep now that even a talented star has a small chance of winning in any one event. Pick any guy in his 30s who's in the Top 30 in the world, and I'd say that his odds of winning a major are better than Stricker's, because Steve is running out of time.
I'm convinced Sergio will never win a major simply because he has stated he doesn't believe he will, and I think self-belief is not only imperative but common among all major champions. He's come close on talent alone but mental fortitude is the intangible that he has lacked in his career, and I don't see him finding it anytime soon with all the baggage he has accumulated.
5. By all accounts this has been the year of Nice Guys Winning majors, with Adam Scott and Justin Rose falling into both of those categories. So by that measure, who is the most likely to win the Open Championship?
Long Shot: Henrik Stenson. Sweden might catch up with Australia.
The first name that entered my mind is Brandt Snedeker, whose not only a quality human being but also due for a major. Last year he matched the 36-hole record at the Open Championship and later went on to win the FedEx Cup title and contend at this year's Masters, so he's clearly primed and ready to raise the Claret Jug. Another interesting parallel here is that both Scott and Rose were 32 when they claimed their first major this year. Snedeker is 32. It all seems quite fitting.
Nice guys? Winning majors? So much for Leo Durocher's bon mot. But really, if you want the guy who's the nicest out on Tour, the one who takes extra time to sign autographs the way Arnie did, then it's Phil's turn to hoist the Claret Jug. On the other hand, no one can possibly say anything unkind about Matt Kuchar, who even smiles on rainy days.
I was tempted to go with Phil but I'm going to go with Jason Day, who has played well at majors before, most recently at Merion, and is from Australia and thus has sandbelt experience, which could be useful if Muirfield is playing firm and fast. He also has had a nice recovery since becoming a dad last year and losing focus on his game. It would go against Muirfield's trend of big-name champions, but then again, isn't Day destined to be a star in many people's eyes?
6. What will the winner's score to par?
I forecast 14-under.
I'll go with 8-under, but I'm trending toward 7.
I like 7-under to take the lion's share this year.
Shocked you guys still asked me this question after I answered -12 to win the U.S. Open! I'll go -4 this time.
Here's the weather forecast for Muirfield, courtesy of our pals over at Weather Underground:
Wednesday - Cloudy; high 73
Thursday - 20 percent chance of thunder; high 77
Friday - Partly cloudy; high 68
Saturday - Partly cloudy, high 72
Sunday - Partly cloudy, high 72
Our next golf roundtable will address the PGA Championship in August. Got a question about the fourth major? Submit it in the comments.