Pros pick favourites for British Open

Padraig Harrington of Ireland reacts to a birdie putt on seventh hole during the second round of...

Padraig Harrington of Ireland reacts to a birdie putt on seventh hole during the second round of the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club on June 15, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images/AFP)

IAN HUTCHINSON, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

TORONTO - As we set our sights on Royal Lytham and St. Annes for this week’s British Open, a multitude of trends will either continue on their merry way in jolly old England, or disappear into a pot bunker.

About the only certainty is that those across the pond and self-styled, uber traditionalists elsewhere will chide anybody who calls it anything other than The Open Championship. That won’t stop.

Another trend that won’t stop in the foreseeable future is Tiger Woods being the favourite in any major he plays, even if this year, he tied for 40th at the Masters and tied for 21st at the U.S. Open.

Mentioning those cold, hard facts will brand you a Tiger-hater, even if you acknowledge that he’s capable of winning this week as he has in 14 previous majors.

The point of mentioning such things is that Woods’ putter can run cold, or he struggles with distances, or maybe, just maybe, there are other people capable of winning as well.

We don’t know which Tiger will show up until proceedings get underway. If saying that makes you a Tiger-hater, so be it.

Those who dismiss such facts will also ignore that the last nine major champions were first-time winners, a trend that could continue this week with Hunter Mahan, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Rickie Fowler among many looking for their first major.

“I will take Tiger Woods over anyone who would be a first-time winner of the Open,” said former PGA Tour player Dick Zokol, adding that Padraig Harrington is a possibility.

Jim Nelford, another ex-PGA Tour player, says he doesn’t have a specific choice, other than it won’t be Woods, but he’s leaning toward Harrington, a two-time champ at the Open Championship and a winner of the PGA Championship.

“Padraig, if he can eliminate some of the careless mistakes he has been prone to making,” said Nelford.

Former LPGA Tour player Sandra Post, a major winner herself after her victory at the 1968 LPGA Championship, also chooses a past major winner, but it isn’t Woods.

“Ernie Els has been playing well and could get it done. It would be a nice win at this stage of his career,” said Post of the former British Open champion and two-time U.S. Open winner.

Adam Hadwin, preparing for next week’s RBC Canadian Open, sees it unfolding differently.

“It’s hard for me to root against Tiger,” said Hadwin. “When you win 25% of events you play, odds are on your side. I will take a first-timer this week, though.”

Of course, Woods, Harrington and Els winning would end the first-time champion streak, but Els and Harrington winning would end three consecutive major wins by Americans, including Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson at the most recent U.S. Open.

The previous six major winners were won by players born outside the U.S., including Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and last year’s British Open champ Darren Clarke.

Zokol disagrees with Nelford when he says the winner will come from inside the U.S.

“A non-American will win,” argued Nelford, adding that players from across the ocean are more acclimatized to British golf.

Hadwin goes along with Nelford. “My guess is a European is going to take home the crown. Their games are much better suited over there,” he said.

The rest of the people in our quick survey expect the first-timer trend to continue, but also buck the trend of Americans winning.

Another former PGA Tour player, Ian Leggatt, is going with Westwood, as is Hadwin. That was a tempting pick for Canadian Tour commissioner Rick Janes as well.

“As much as I would like to see Lee Westwood win the Open and his first major, Luke Donald would be my pick among those without a major,” said Janes. “Both are due and capable, but I like Luke,” he said. “I think the win will come from Europe.”

Golf Canada executive director Scott Simmons agrees through his pick of Justin Rose.

“I think it will be a first time major champion,” said Simmons.

PRO DEBUTs and wins

North Vancouver’s Eugene Wong made his professional debut last week at the Canadian Tour’s Players Cup in Winnipeg. His next stop is the Canadian Open, which gave him an exemption ... A couple of guys with other Open exemptions warmed up with a spirited battle at the Investors Group Ontario Amateur last week at Summit Golf and Country Club in Richmond Hill, where 2010 Canadian Amateur winner Albin Choi beat last year’s national champ Mackenzie Hughes in a one-hole playoff ... Brian McCann, who will also play in the Canadian Open, defends his Ontario PGA title this week at Barrie Country Club. McCann earned his Open exemption by finishing on top of the PGA of Canada national rankings ... Brooke Henderson, who earned an exemption into the CN Canadian Women’s Open at the age of 14, warmed up for that August event by winning her second consecutive Ontario Junior Girls title at Shelburne Golf and Country Club. Henderson won a CN Canadian Women’s Tour event earlier this season to earn her exemption ... Past champion Mark O’Meara has withdrawn from the British Open due to injury and Jason Day won’t be there after the birth of his first child.

PAIR EARNS SPOT IN CANADIAN OPEN

Matt Hill of Brights Grove, Ont., and Cory Renfrew of Victoria have earned exemptions into next week’s Canadian Open after finishing one-two, respectively, on the Canadian Tour’s Order of Merit following weekend play at the Players Cup in Winnipeg.

The tournament was won by Chris Killmer in a playoff over Vince Covello.

Hill leads the list with $47,350 after four events, with Renfrew back at $37,258.

Renfrew edged Michael Gliglic of Burlington, who is third with $36,050 in four tournaments.

Hill’s tie for eighth in Winnipeg was his fourth consecutive top-10 this year, including a win at the Dakota Dunes Casino Open in Saskatoon a week ago. Renfrew tied for 38th at the Players Cup after winning the Syncrude Boreal Open in Fort McMurray, Alta., two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, a player who chose not to accept his Canadian Open exemption is illustrating that might be a wise choice as three-time Canadian Amateur champion Richard Scott shot a final round 66 on Sunday at Web.com Tour’s Utah Championship.

Scott’s tie for ninth in Utah was his third consecutive top-10 finish and his fourth this season. He chose to decline his Canadian Open exemption because he was close to the top 25 on the tour’s money list who receive full time status on the PGA Tour next season.

Scott remains just outside the top 25 in 28th.

Calgary’s James Love also tied for ninth in Utah, while Brad Fritsch of Manotick, Ont., tied for 22nd.


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