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The Open Championship Preview: Across the Pond

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.

There was a time, about five or six years ago, that when certain players took the lead in a given event, no matter when, they would close it out. Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson in the lead on a Friday afternoon meant the other players in the field should start thinking about the next event. It hasn't been that way lately, which might be a reflection of the lack of top-end talent on the PGA TOUR. Or actually, it could be the opposite - too many quality golfers ho refuse to throw in the towel. Whatever the reason, there simply aren't many wire-to-wire leaders anymore. Steve Stricker, however, is one of those throw-back players. Once Stricker took the lead last Friday, there was little doubt he'd seal the deal Sunday. Sure, it wasn't quite as easy as predicted - for a moment, Stricker actually lost the lead late Sunday - but in the end, he did what we expected him to do.

From the expected to the unexpected, this week the British Open travels back to Royal St. George's Golf Club in England. If you remember the last time the Open Championship was played there you know full well that anything can happen. This course is a true equalizer, and the player who ends up winning Sunday will be there as a result of quality play and good fortune. Quality play alone will not result in a win this week; like it or not, good old fashioned luck will play a huge role this week. That said, the sleeper list this week should be extra long. Every European is in the mix, and even more so if you don't recognize his name.

What the John Deere means:

Steve Stricker: Is Stricker the best American player right now? He may be, but unfortunately, he's not likely to challenge for a major this week at the British Open. Stricker's major record leaves a lot to be desired.

Steve Marino: You may have noticed Marino's name atop the leaderboard Friday afternoon last week. You may have also noticed it disappeared rather quickly Saturday. Marino shot a 73 on Saturday and followed that up with a 78 on Sunday.

Jason Day: Maybe Day did have an eye on the British Open, or maybe he just had an off week. Whatever the case, expect Day to put his experience at the John Deere behind him quickly and focus on the task at hand this week.

This week:
The Open Championship

Last Year:
Louis Oosthuizen shot a final-round 71 on his way to a seven-stroke victory over Lee Westwood.

Players to Consider:

1. Rory McIlroy

If they were playing St. Andrews or just about any other course this week, McIlroy would be a prohibitive favorite. As it is, Royal St. George's is the ultimate equalizer, and there's simply no way to single out one person this week as the favorite.

2. Jason Day

Runner-up at the two previous majors, there's no reason to think he can't compete here this week. The quirkiness of the course this week may play into his hands as he's proven successful on several different layouts this year.

3. Fredrik Jacobson

Yes, the course is unpredictable, but that doesn't mean you need to throw out previous results here entirely. Jacobson finished T6 here in 2003, and he's playing the best golf of his life.

4. Peter Hanson

Hanson was one of my sleepers at the U.S. Open last month, and he didn't disappoint. Now he's back on more familiar ground, and while he hasn't excelled at the British Open in past years, his game is in better shape this time around.

5. Graeme McDowell

Lost in all the Rory-mania is the other guy from Northern Ireland; you know, the guy who won the U.S. Open last year? McDowell hasn't quite played up to his or our expectations this season, but I have a feeling that may change this week.

Players to Avoid:

1. Steve Stricker

On U.S. soil, Stricker is about as reliable as it gets, but across the pond, he's just as likely as anyone else to miss the cut. Stricker's had a couple top-10s at the Open Championship, but for the most part, he struggles on the links-style layouts.

2. Phil Mickelson

The last time I was this down on Mickelson was the week leading up to the 2010 Masters, so take this for what it's worth. Mickelson just doesn't look like a legitimate factor, and I don't see that changing this week.

3. Zach Johnson

Johnson has played well the last couple months, and he played well last week at the John Deere, but he's never figured out the links-style courses across the pond.

4. Anders Hansen

Hansen might be the only European player who struggles at the Open Championship. He's missed the cut at this event in five of eight tries, including 2003 at Royal St. George's.

5. Justin Leonard

The former Open Champion has a knack for popping up every few years and making a run at this event, but his game is not in the proper shape this time around.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
The Open Championship

Group A

1. Lee Westwood

2. Graeme McDowell

Plenty of good options in Group A this week, which leads to a couple tough decisions. None more so than leaving Luke Donald off the roster. He's playing well this year, and he's played well at this event the last two years. However, Westwood has played better at this event the last two years, and, quite frankly, he's due. I know, flimsy, but I get the sense that his game will improve with the spotlight elsewhere.

Group B

1. Charl Schwartzel

2. Retief Goosen

3. Paul Casey

4. Ian Poulter

Six players in and not a single American, no surprise there I guess. Schwartzel is the reigning Masters champion, which means if nothing else, he can handle the pressure if he's in the hunt come Sunday. Goosen has a remarkable record at the Open Championship, and although his game is not in top shape, he's still capable of a good showing at this event. Speaking of game not in top shape, Casey has been well off his top form all year, but this event has a way of bringing out the best in the European players, and Casey has as much talent as anyone in the field this week. Poulter was the last player taken, mainly because of his experience on this course and a decent track record at this event, which includes a runner-up finish in 2008.

Group C

1. Fredrik Jacobson

2. Rory McIlroy

It's a shame that I have to leave so many quality players off the roster this week from Group C, but I think I've got the right duo in McIlroy and Jacobson. McIlroy will be on nearly every roster, and I can't afford to take the risk of leaving him off my team. The second pick came down to Day or Jacobson. Day has the better track record in the majors, but Jacobson has the better track record at this event. In addition to that, Jacobson is a great scrambler, and he will need that ability this week.

Starters Round One

1. Lee Westwood

2. Retief Goosen

3. Charl Schwartzel

4. Rory McIlroy

As is usually the case at the Open Championship, weather will be a factor this week, more precisely, wind. The unfortunate part is that by the time you figure out when the bad weather is to hit, the line-up deadline has already passed. Still, keep your ears open about any upcoming breaks for the morning groups vs. the afternoon groups. If there seems to be a definitive break between the two, weather wise, then adjust accordingly. For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume golfers will play under the same conditions.

Round Two and Going Forward:

I'm starting with Westwood on a hunch this week, but after round one, this group is up for grabs. I have no set plan to give either player time in the line-up after Thursday, so I'll base everything on the previous round. Schwartzel and Goosen get the starts in Group B, and although I am not completely sold on their prospects this week, they've got a pretty tight hold on their spots until I see something from either Poulter or Casey. This is the Open Championship, however, and just because Casey and Poulter have not impressed me this year, that doesn't mean they are dead in the water this week. Both are capable of winning this week if they start well. Group C is the most difficult this week because I really like both players. I gave some thought to starting Jacobson in round one this week with the hope of gaining on the field early on, but I thought better and will take the conservative route early on. That doesn't mean, though, that I won't take some chances later on in the week.