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5 Players who can win The Open on Sunday

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It’s the final round of The Open Championship, which means the once lush green hues at the Muirfield property have been baked out by the sun and wind-blown into a more diabolical light brown.

The Open Championship has turned into a marathon horse race on a fast track. Tempers are running hot, and golf balls running hotter.

Muirfield, the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, has given the best golfers in the world fits through the first three rounds. It’s no surprise that the previous champions at the venue in the past half-century are not only Hall-of-famers, but legends of the game. The winner this week will join the likes of Cotton, Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, Watson (Tom, not Bubba), Faldo and Els on the list of Open champions that have won on the hallowed grounds of Muirfield.

Ball striking, imagination, a few fortunate bounces and (as with any round of golf) putting will be paramount to joining the list of golfing greats who have beaten back the brutal test of links golf that is Muirfield.

Early week pretenders were filtered off the leaderboard by the course’s unusually firm and fast conditions. Through 54-holes, the top of the leaderboard is left with only a handful of contenders, ready to have their names etched into the Claret Jug below the name of Ernie Els, the defending champion.

Here are five golfers that have the best opportunity to become the 142nd Open Champion on Sunday, in order of best-to-worst chances:

Tiger Woods: 1-under (T2)

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The ultra-firm, fast conditions at Muirfield play to Woods’ strengths.

They allow him to keep his driver hidden beneath a head cover, and stick to a game plan reminiscent of his victory at Hoylake in 2006. That’s why despite his 2-shot deficit heading into the final round, the 14-time major champion is still the man to beat, because how can you bet against one of the best iron players to ever play the game at a venue that’s all about well-placed iron shots?

Over his professional career, Woods has also established himself as one of the best pressure putters of all time, particularly in majors. Westwood, who leads Woods by two shots, and Mahan, who is tied with Woods, are both without a major championship victory, and don’t even figure into the conversation of good pressure putters in their era.

If Tiger is going to regain his major dominance in an ever-growing pool of younger competition, he needs this victory. He knows that better than anyone. He was a poster boy for mental toughness once upon a time, but his self-applied pressure is likely his biggest competition on Sunday.

Lee Westwood: 3-under (1st)

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Westwood’s 39 worldwide professional wins, 15 top-10, and 7 top-3 finishes in major championships make him one of the most decorated and experienced players without a major victory. However, his inability to close leaves well-deserved question marks.

Born in England, the fans have tried to carry their local hero to a win on the big stage. With a victory, Westwood would become the first golfer from England to win the British Open since Faldo, ending the 21-year drought.

The 40-year old, ranked No. 12 in the world, recently switched to swing instructor Sean Foley and putting coach Ian-Baker Finch. Westwood has always been known as a wonderful ball-striker, but he has struggled in previous years to make the putts necessary to win. That has golf fans curious to see how his new and improved putting approach will hold up under the stress of a 2-shot leading heading into Sunday.

Saturday saw a mixture of fine putting and signs of shakiness from Westwood. He will need to make solid strokes early in tomorrow’s round in order to set the tone of confidence.

Westwood’s cushion over Mahan and Woods seems comfortable on paper, but it is anything but safe with the unpredictability of links golf and his previous history of missing out at the majors.

Adam Scott: Even (4th)

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On the back of Adam Scott, Australia gained its first Masters championship earlier this year with his dramatic playoff victory. The green jacket also meant Scott shed the burden of the “best player without a major” labels.

In last year’s Open, he notoriously bogeyed his closing four holes, handing the Claret Jug to Ernie Els.  Scott has since overcome his major struggles, surely opening the floodgates for more success.

One of the most pure ball strikers in the world, Scott’s career was always plagued with poor putting. For now, and until the anchored-putter ban takes affect, the long-putter has been Scott’s salvation. By filling in the blank that has burdened his game for years previously, Scott has once again put himself in major contention.

His putter, however, remains on the stand for questioning in the biggest moments. Scott is only three shots back, but birdies will be very difficult to come by in the final round, and a few bogies are almost unavoidable. That means the leaders will likely have to come back for Scott to win, or his long putter will have to get red hot.

Hunter Mahan: 1-under (T2)

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While many of his contemporaries have rejected the challenges of links golf on a brutally quick links course, Mahan has embraced them.

“The course is just awesome. It’s going to test every part of your game,” Mahan said earlier in the week. “The speed is up, and we really got to think ahead out here… It’s really neat.”

Sunday at a major championship requires steely nerves, not just a happy-go-lucky attitude, but Mahan sits at 1-under for the week following an impressive Saturday 68.

He’s ranked No. 23 in the world, has five PGA Tour wins, and boasts a robotic swing that Sean Foley has deemed the prototype for his other students (namely Tiger Woods). Mahan’s career resume in majors is less than stellar with only five career top-10 finishes, but a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open last month at Merion may have given him the confidence to contend late into Sunday afternoon (or morning, depending where you’re watching).

Mahan, one of the four members of the pop band Golf Boys, needs to prove his worth on the big stage—Muirfield, not Carnegie Hall.

Phil Mickelson: 2-over (T9)

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Despite two consecutive rounds over par and a five-stroke deficit, Phil has the propensity for theatrics.  He’s made football fields worth of par putts at Muirfield, but will need to make birdies on Sunday to contend.

The British Open has baffled Phil throughout his career, as he admittedly just didn’t like links golf. He’s claimed to turn that hatred into love, proven by his first win overseas last week at the Scottish Open.

Teeing off earlier than the leaders could give Phil an advantage with a couple more minutes of morning saturation. If he can come out early and make birdies, post a number in the 60’s and get to even par or 1-under for the championship, the leaders may crumble around him down the stretch on the demanding closing holes.

Phil will hope to add the Claret Jug to his major championship trophy case, which would be his first “Open” (British or United States) championship victory. Muirfield may be “too much course” for Phil to make up a 5-shots, but his go-for-broke mentality makes him the perfect suspect to make a comeback.

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He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team and earned a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Kristin

    Jul 24, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Right on. Hindsight is always 20-20 but rarely can one say that about foresight!

  2. Chris

    Jul 21, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Adam Scott has nothing to lose so watch out for him…plus Stevie will be highly motivated.

  3. Roll the Dice

    Jul 20, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Sorry but Tiger doesnt get er done, Hunter Mahan wins. C ya…..Tiger but your run is OVER:)

  4. Airbender

    Jul 20, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Go Tiger…

  5. Jud

    Jul 20, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    Go Tiger! Time to win a major after not leading going into the final day

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: The best drill in golf (throwing the club)

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If you are struggling with weight shift, clearing your hips, or have issues freeing up your golf swing, then what you want to do is start chucking that golf club. No joke! In this podcast, we will explain how to properly throw the golf club from a safe area and the results will be absolutely transformational.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: A New No. 1 – How Justin Thomas overcame a poor putting performance

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In the final tuneup before the PGA Championship in San Francisco, many of the world’s best teed it up at Memphis’ TPC Southwind in the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational. The final day showcased a stacked leaderboard and plenty of volatility, but in the end, it was Justin Thomas who came from four back to win for the third time this year. This was a quick bounceback after a letdown at The Memorial just a few weeks ago. Winning on the PGA Tour certainly takes stellar play and, typically, a little luck like Thomas’ pulled drive on 15 that skirted off a cart path, over a bridge and into prime position for a late birdie. Had that tee ball found the hazard instead, this article would likely be about Brooks Koepka and his late charge.

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In Ways to Win, it is rare that we highlight Short Game as a differentiating factor for winners. That is typically because to excel in the short game, one has to miss quite a few greens. When you miss greens, it’s hard to score. However, Justin Thomas was able to consistently get himself out of difficult situations, minimize damage, and turn bogeys into pars throughout his four rounds.

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Worst Round: 70
Longest Drive: 347 yds
Longest Holeout: 28 ft
Most consecutive holes without a bogey: 24
Scrambling Streak: 9 in a row
Holes without a 3 putt: 20
Most birdies in a round: 6

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The best way to improve your short game is to miss fewer greens, like JT. For most amateurs, short game practice should focus on eliminating mistakes, such as “two-chips” when you do miss the green. Once you can consistently get on the green and have a putt to get up and down, focus should shift to the long game. Tee to Green play is where the game’s best separate themselves from the weekend warriors.

V1 Game can help you with each of these items.

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