LITTLE ROCK — Based on golf’s first two majors of the year, followers of trends have only three choices to win the British Open this week.
Adam Scott and Justin Rose shared specifics involving the numbers 30, 10, and 0 when Scott won The Masters in April and Rose captured the U.S. Open in June.
Both were in their 30s, both were ranked in the top 10 in the world, and neither had won a major.
The players who qualify on all counts are No. 6 Matt Kuchar, No. 8 Brand Snedeker, and No. 9 Luke Donald. Ironically, Kuchar and Donald are in the same threesome with Scott for the first two rounds while Snedeker is paired with Rose and defending champion Ernie Els.
Of the three, Kuchar would be my pick, albeit a lukewarm one.
Speculating about possible major winners with members of our Sunday group, never do I mention Snedeker or Donald. For some reason, I can’t picture them fighting the elements at Muirfield, grinding out par after par on Sunday, and holding high the Claret Jug.
At least Kuchar appears to have the unflappable personality that will allow him to deal with the wind and the whims of the British Open and not get caught up in distractions that are part of a major. For instance, this year at The Masters, he was gung-ho about winning the Par-3 Contest, knowing that no winner of the Wednesday competition has gone on to capture the green jacket. Kuchar tied for second on that Wednesday and tied for eighth on Sunday.
With Tiger Woods’ superior play no longer a given, handicapping a major golf tournament is more difficult than sorting out the 20-horse field in the Kentucky Derby.
Just for grins, I checked odds on the British Open the day after Rose prevailed at Merion and was amazed to find that Woods was the favorite and that Rory McIlroy was the second choice. The former was on his way to rehab for a sore elbow and the latter had just completed the U.S. Open without one sub-par round.
Personally, McIlroy is more of a mystery, maybe because I was in the camp that believed his victory in the 2011 U.S. Open signaled that he would be a contender in every major and win his share. He won a second major in 2012, but leading up to that PGA Championship, his mishmash of a resume included missing four of five cuts, recording three top 10s, and finishing in a tie for 60th at the British.
Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley nailed it recently when he said, “He is never going to be a Nick Faldo who is going to flatline. We just have to accept that and let him get on with it.”
Endorsing McIlroy on a links course is risky at best. Other than a tie for third at St. Andrews in 2010, he hasn’t placed in the top 20 in any British Open. In 2011, after he finished 12 shots behind Darren Clarke, McIlroy said, “It’s not my sort of game.”
Eleven of the 13 players who have won at Muirfield are in the World Golf Hall of Fame, but this might be the year that the champion is a bit more off the wall because of the firm and fast conditions. For instance, during a practice round, Woods hit a 4-iron 285 yards and Angel Cabrera used a 6-iron from the tee on a 441-yard hole.
Depending on the wind direction, a player can hit a drive 400 yards on one hole and be hard-pressed to carry the ball 240 yards on another, said two-time British Open champion Padraig Harrington. He called it “amazing golf.” I’m not sure about that, but I always look forward to watching the third major because of the creativity required to solve the nuances of links golf.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.