by Jeff Skinner
I don’t know which is harder to imagine: Tiger Woods being the overwhelming favorite to win this week’s Open Championship or the possibility that Woods won’t win at St. Andrews. Woods has owned The Old Course and treated it like his private playground. He enters this week trying to become the first player to win three Opens at St. Andrews. In 2005 he won here by eight strokes and in 2005 he bested the fields by five. Under normal circumstances Tiger certainly would be the man to beat but we all know these are not normal circumstances. Coming into The Open Woods looks more like a beaten man than the man to beat.
Tiger has never gone into the third major of the year without a win and his best finishes this year were two ties for fourth at The Masters and the US Open. It’s understandable that Woods is playing a “distracted game” if you will. However, Woods still thinks he is very close to being the Tiger of old, on the course anyway. I wouldn’t be shocked if he missed the cut but I also would not be too surprised if Tiger won this thing.
If you’re looking for contenders to keep Woods from claiming his third St. Andrews championship just take a glance at the PGA Tour statistics where Ernie Els leads in scoring average, FedEx Cup points, money and has two wins this year already. Els is fresh off his near miss at The US Open where he placed third.
Els is at a total opposite place than Tiger is. Since he has moved to the US full time and gone public with his son Ben’s autism, Els has found a new calm and peace in his life. He focuses on his family, his charities, his businesses and at the same time his golf game has flourished. In addition to his 2002 Open title in the past five Opens he has four top ten finishes. Few players are playing better than Els right now and he is confident he can contend. He told Sky Sports he feels good here, “I feel like I’ve got a good chance this week. I’ve got a lot of experience and I think it’ll help me. I guess I’ve just been looking forward to this week since the US Open and now that I’m here, I’m preparing well. Physically I feel really good, I’m hitting my driver good, so I feel my game is really there.”