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Sizing up contenders for the '08 Open Championship

July 14, 2008

While Kenny Perry might currently be the hottest player in golf someone else can work his way into the foray as challenger to all things Tiger by taking this week's Open Championship.

The 47-year-old Perry, who would largely be regarded as one of the favorites, will not travel across the pond despite two PGA Tour victories this season instead opting for the U.S Bank Championship in Milwaukee.

Some question whether a sans-Tiger major would warrant an asterisk. Not hardly.

A win at Royal Birkdale, where the rough is treacherous and greens are like glass is going to be earned by whomever gets it. Tiger certainly would've been a contender, but there's no reason to penalize the winner of the '08 Open simply because he is absent due to injury.

And given some of the names that have vaulted into the spotlight this season, there are a host of challengers for the title.

Here's who to watch in predicted order of finish:

Miguel Angel Jimenez - Jimenez owns European tracks. He's won 15 times on the European Tour in his carrer, and this year he finished eighth at The Masters and sixth at the U.S. Open. He's a great ball striker and stays out of the thick stuff. Royal Birkdale sets up nicely for him, and he is a solid pick to remain in contention, and my pick to win come Sunday.

Rocco Mediate - I picked Rocco as a sleeper in the U.S. Open because of his ability to hit fairways and greens. This week is no different. The winner of the Open Championship will stay out of trouble for four days. Rocco doesn't hit the ball a ton, but at 7,173 yards, Royal Birkdale's distance won't be a problem for him. If he putts like he did in the U.S. Open, he'll be on the leaderboard Sunday.

Sergio Garcia - If Sergio could stay out of his own head, he would already be a winner of multiple majors. He won The Players Championship earlier this year sans Tiger. There's no reason to think he won't contend in Europe this week.

Justin Leonard - A quiet winner, Leonard doesn't kill it, but plays extremely smart golf. His veteran presence will keep him around through the weekend.

Ben Curtis - Curtis, the winner of the 2003 British Open, won his only major in similar circumstances. He kept the ball in play when no one else could. Consistent strikers will always top the list for contenders in an Open Championship simply because of how links-style courses play. The pride of Kent State has shown some signs of life in recent weeks, right in time for another break through performance in England.

Wild cards

There hasn't been enough consistency from the following players to assure they'll contend in the Open, but when they've been on, they've been pretty remarkable this season. These guys have got a shot depending on which side of their game decides to show up:

Sean O'Hair - O'Hair is a solid player that has proved he can win, but what's foiled him at times is the ability to string four good rounds together. He's capable of it at times, and this weekend could be one of those instances.

Anthony Kim - Kim is a youngster at 23, but he's already been ushered in by some as the next threat to Tiger. I don't know about that, yet. But I do know Kim is as capable as anyone when he gets things rolling.

John Daly - Absolutely the definition of "wild card," Daly has been awful playing on sponsors exemptions the past two seasons. But he's wallowed in obscurity before only to win when no one expects it. With Daly, it seems to be all or nothing. He's either going to implode or win - there won't be any in between. He actually led last year's Open Championship for a moment in the first round before he, as you guessed it, imploded and then missed the cut. Perhaps he can finally keep it together. He made noise in both of his majors last year. He'll likely do the same this year whether the noise is good or bad.

Ernie Els - What happened to The Big Easy? He played so well for so long but just hasn't been able to keep any momentum as of late. That could change for the South African this week, where the mountain of Tiger isn't around to have to climb.

Vijay Singh - Vijay is often a streaky player, but when he's honed in, you know it from the start. If Singh gets off to a solid opening two rounds, he has proved he can make big moves when the weekend rolls around.

Put up or shut up

Some players haven't done anything in ages but are still toiling away in golf's seedy underbelly. Here are three guys that need to make a move in a major soon before getting filed as has-beens.

David Duval - The former No. 1 in the world has been terrible with no real excuse as to why. Some blame marriage and kids. Duval says that isn't the case but his game has been a barrage of high numbers and missed cuts. He obviously has the physical ability, but what will it take for him to regain whatever mental toughness he had when he was the game's best?

John Daly - Daly falls into this category as well because the two-time major winner has been at a crossroads in his career for going on two years now. He's been in the dumps in the past but his current streak seems worse than ever. He's basically been a side-show. Daly desperately needs a good showing to disprove his doubters and to gain the trust back of even his most loyal followers - many of which are starting to give up on him.

Jean Van de Velde - "Pulling a Van de Velde" has become a phrase of golf folklore ever since the Frenchman had arguably the biggest meltdown in golf history in the 1999 Open. He can erase his stigma forever if he manages a decent four days at Royal Birkdale.

The Open Championship begins Thursday in England.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at



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