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British Open Preview: Tiger's Last Stand?

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

I've maintained all year that there's no reason to panic about the state of Tiger Woods' game, but I must admit, a poor outing this week at St. Andrews will shake my confidence. Woods has been through slumps before and has always come out on top. This one, though, seems a little different. The problem lies in two spots: lack of consistency in any part of his game and, more important, lack of clutch putting. The former became painfully apparent after his post-Masters struggles, but the latter reared its ugly head prior to the scandal late last year. If you recall, Woods was in prime position to win the PGA Championship last year, but he simply could not make a putt coming down the stretch. You know which putts I speak of, those 10-12 footers for par, the ones Tiger always makes when he needs to. Well, they weren't falling at the end of last year, and they aren't falling this year either. Putting, of course, is a huge part of succeeding at the Open Championship, perhaps more important than any other aspect of your game. Nowhere else will you see lag putts of 90-100 feet, you absolutely must have the flat stick working at the Open to succeed. Much will be made this week about how Tiger avoided every single bunker the last time through St. Andrews, but keep a close eye on the greens this week. If Tiger makes those mid-range putts early on, he'll have a chance in the end, if not, then slump talk will intensify 10-fold.

What the John Deere Classic means:

Steve Stricker: Not many players can hang with Stricker when he's on, but I'd like to see something from him this week before I get excited about the state of his game. Stricker can light it up during the regular TOUR events, but he's yet to really leave his mark at a major.

Paul Goydos: Goydos might be the streakiest player on the planet. Unfortunately, his upside isn't usually enough to earn a victory. He's like Kenny Perry-lite.

Matt Jones: Jones finally made an appearance this season, finishing in fifth place last week. But don't get too excited; he's got a solid track record at the John Deere and it's not likely to carry over.

This week: British Open

Last Year: Stewart Cink shot a final-round 69 on his way to a playoff victory over Tom Watson.

Players to Consider:

  1. Tiger Woods

    I haven't given up yet, but as mentioned, this could be the breaking point. Tiger owns this venue, and if he can't get it done here, then even the most ardent supporters will have to question him.

  2. Justin Rose

    The trap has been set. Young talent on the rise, two wins in his last three starts, prior Open success. It's all coming together at the right time for Rose, and he looks like the "can't miss player" this week, which usually make me hesitant, but I'll bite anyway.

  3. Ernie Els

    Just as this Open is a barometer for Woods, it also serves the same purpose for Els. Els showed his old form earlier this season when he captured two wins on the PGA TOUR, but to truly get back to old form, he'll need to win this week.

  4. Vijay Singh

    Singh's game has really come around over the past month, and his track record at St. Andrews is pretty solid. He finished T-11 here in 2000 and T-5 here in 2005.

  5. Darren Clarke

    Clarke has been a non-factor in the golf world the past few years, but just as Tom Watson proved last year, if you can play a track, it doesn't matter where your game is. Clarke is comfortable at St. Andrews and could find his old form this week.

Players to Avoid:

  1. Rickie Fowler

    Fowler is certainly on the rise, but to expect anything out of him in his first Open Championship is just not realistic.

  2. Ryo Ishikawa

    The hype machine has been in full effect since Ishikawa first appeared on the PGA TOUR last season, but he's failed to live up to the hype to this point, and that won't change this week.

  3. Bubba Watson

    Tiger kept his driver in the bag all week during the 2005 Open and it worked beautifully. Think Bubba can do the same this week? Not likely, which means his sand wedge is going to get a major workout this week.

  4. Y.E. Yang

    Yang came on like gangbusters last season, eventually capturing his first major championship at the end of the year, but 2010 has not been as kind to him. Yang appears to be suffering from the major hangover that many first-timers go through.

  5. J.B. Holmes

    See Bubba Waston. I have a feeling it's going to take Holmes years to figure out how to get around an Open track. He has the ability to get around this course with only his irons, but he won't go that route, it's not his style.

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Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week: British Open

Group A

  1. Tiger Woods
  2. Ernie Els

As is the case for all the majors, there are tough decisions to make in Group A. Woods and Els, however, seem to stand out above the crowd, which made my decision a little easier. I've never liked Mickelson at the British Open, so I didn't give him much thought.

Group B

  1. Lee Westwood
  2. Retief Goosen
  3. Padraig Harrington
  4. Henrik Stenson

The selections in Group B were actually pretty easy to make this week. As is always the case, I lean toward those with European Tour experience when selecting players for the British Open. Lucky for me, those same players just happen to be some of the best names in the group this week. Westwood has played his best on the biggest stages this year, and I expect nothing less this week. Goosen has a pretty solid track record at St. Andrews and should be competitive this week. Harrington does not have the track record of Goosen, but he's a two-time Open Champion, which has to count for something. Stenson has won big events in the past, just not a major, but that's going to change at some point in the near future.

Group C

  1. Justin Rose
  2. Darren Clarke

I'm putting my money where my mouth is this week and selecting Darren Clarke to back up Justin Rose. Sure, chances are I won't need Clarke with the way Rose has played lately, but never the less, I think both players will be around for the weekend, which will keep my options open.

Starters Round One

  1. Ernie Els
  2. Lee Westwood
  3. Padraig Harrington
  4. Justin Rose

It's not that I don't trust Woods enough to start him on Thursday, it's just ... OK, I don't trust him. Look, I think he'll play well this week, but Woods has a long history of slow starts at majors anyway, so why not just sit back and wait? Westwood is an easy pick to start in Group B. He's met every challenge this season, and there's no reason to think he won't play well out of the gate this week. It wasn't easy deciding which player to start in the second Group B slot, but I went with the Harrington who actually has something to prove on this course after missing the last Open Championship played here in 2005. Rose is the obvious choice in Group C as he's playing very well coming into this week.

Round Two and Going Forward:

No matter what Els does in round one this week, Woods is penciled in to start round two. I say penciled because if Woods shoots something in the mid-70s on Thursday, I might hold off until the weekend. Westwood could easily start all four rounds this week, but the second spot should be up for grabs each day. Harrington gets the first crack and from there, who knows? Goosen and Stenson are both capable of winning this week, so I'll just have to keep an eye on which player looks like he might make a run. Group C is going to be interesting. With Rose as the No. 1 player from this group, I shouldn't need anything out of Clarke, but I'll definitely consider starting him at some point if he shows his old form this week. Friday or Saturday would be the most likely spots to get Clarke into the line-up.

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