ICG Fantasy Five: Westwood's Time Is Now

Westwood

By Michael Weigand, PGA, ICG

There's just something about the British Open that makes it one of the most enjoyable golf events, not only for spectators but for the players, as well.

Combine the fun of morning television coverage, the unique views and layouts of courses that have been around, in many cases, for over 100 years and the change from traditional U.S. "target golf" and we, as viewers, are treated to a very special product. Ask most fans and they will tell you that the British Open is a close second to the Masters on the major championships favorites list.

This year's version of the very traditional event brings us to Royal Lytham & St. Anne's in Lancashire, England on the coast of the Irish Sea. Lytham is a true "links" course in that it was built in 1886 on land that "linked" the farmland of the area to the coastline. The course also represents what most golfers consider a links layout in that its' 10th tee is the furthest from the clubhouse with the opening nine generally going "out" and the remaining nine holes coming "in". Toss in over 200 bunkers and some challenging rough and we've got a perfect spot to determine this year's Open champion.

Royal Lytham & St. Anne's has hosted the Open Championship five times since 1974. Former champions include Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros (twice), Tom Lehman and David Duval.

Keeping in mind that golf is different in its' original home than it is in many other places around the globe, it typically takes a certain kind of player to win the Open tournament. Ball-striking and a proficiency at putting from long distances must be combined with guts and imagination in order to hoist the Claret Jug. That being said, let's begin our discussion of this week's iCHOOSEGOLF Fantasy Five.

And, since this week is a major championship, we'll give you our standard five picks along with some other names you'll need to consider when filling out your fantasy golf rosters.

Lee Westwood: It's safe to say that Westwood is by far the best player to have never won a major. It's also safe to say that the Englishman has his sights set directly on rectifying that oversight this week. The time is now for Westwood to finally push through for a win. He's been close already this year after finishing T3 at the Masters and T10 at the U.S. Open. He's now ranked 8th on the PGA TOUR in Scoring thanks mainly to a #2 rank in Greens In Regulation and a #10 rank in Birdie Average. Add in a #29 rank in putts made over 25 feet - a key stat for large British Open greens - and the stars feel like they are aligning for Lee. It is up to him to find a way to get it done on Sunday. The "gut" feeling this week is that he will.

Graeme McDowell: The Northern Irishman makes the list this week for several reasons. He's familiar with golf in this part of the world. He knows how to win a major championship (2010 U.S. Open). And, in reference to our winning formula for this week, Graeme has all the "pieces". He's ranked 44th in GIR, 2nd in Driving Accuracy, 24th in Scoring and 8th in putting over 25 feet. He's already logged a T12 at the Masters and a T2 in the U.S. Open this year. It would be no surprise to see McDowell add a British Open championship to his career resume.

Bubba Watson: This pick comes with a caveat. IF Bubba can keep his mind and emotions in check, he will contend this week. Watson has all the necessary skills. He's #1 on the PGA TOUR in GIR, he's 10th in Birdie or Better Conversion and he's 19th in putting outside of 25 feet. We all know that he has the guts and heart to win a major championship (see: crazy good shot in playoff at Augusta National). Unfortunately, we also know that there are moments in the British Open where the weather and playing conditions will test every players' patience. Considering that patience hasn't always been Bubba's strongest suit, it remains to be seen if, indeed, his newfound maturity can carry him through to success overseas.

Keegan Bradley: If you follow the ICG Fantasy Five, you already know that Keegan is one of our favorites. And why not? Though he just turned 26 years old, he already has a major championship (2011 PGA) to go with a win (2011 Byron Nelson), a runner-up, seven top-10s and 22 top-25s in less than two full seasons on the TOUR. This year he's ranked 5th in Birdie Average, 9th in Birdie or Better Conversion, 20th in Scoring, 15th in Driving Distance and 27th in GIR. He's #50 in putting over 25 feet so, in the end, that may be the deciding factor of his success at Royal Lytham. If he gets that part of his game sharp, the sky's the limit this week.

Tiger Woods: Alright. You probably figured we wouldn't overlook Mr. Woods. In some ways, Tiger takes this spot on our list simply because he's Tiger. Strictly speaking, he also ranks well in the important categories for this week. He's 11th in GIR, 26th in Birdie Average and 1st in Scoring. The question this week, though, is the same as it has been for almost two years: the putter. He's ranked 132nd in putts over 25 feet. Just to be clear - that's not good. In the past, prognosticators would plug in Tiger's name and then go try and find the other four guys for the list. Thanks to Woods' putting struggles, that's not the case anymore. IF Tiger putts well this week, he can win. IF he doesn't, he won't. Simple as that.

Other Notables:

Martin Laird: The Scotsman is ranked 9th in GIR, 13th in Birdie or Better Conversion but 81st in putts over 25 feet. Like Woods, if Laird can get his putter in order, he'll be in the mix this week.

Justin Rose: Your gut probably tells you Rose's name should be listed higher than this, and you're probably right. Ranked 4th in GIR and 20th in putts over 25 feet, Justin will play well. Does he have the guts to win a major? We'll see.

Phil Mickelson: Despite winning at Pebble Beach, Mickelson would probably say this season hasn't lived up to expectations. He's 68th in GIR and 45th in putts over 25 feet, both of which wouldn't be considered "stellar" stats. We know he has the talent and guts. Will that be enough this week?

Coverage of the British Open begins on ESPN on Thursday at 7 a.m. EDT / 6 a.m.CDT.

 

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