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SI Golf Group convened a panel of experts—senior writers Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle along with special contributor John Garrity and a PGA Tour pro who took part on the condition of anonymity—to tackle these and other questions
WHO'S BETTER POSITIONED FOR THE OPEN AMONG THE BIG THREE—TIGER, PHIL OR RORY?
Shipnuck: Phil is most dangerous when you've given up on him—he proved that with his victory at Castle Stuart last week. Yeah, his Open record isn't great, but it's clear he's finally figured out links golf. More to the point, Phil now believes he can win the Open, and I don't think he felt that way until his near miss in 2011. It would be such a classic Phil move to rebound from Merion with a win at Muirfield.
Anonymous Pro: I agree that Phil is dangerous—sometimes if you're a spectator without a helmet, sometimes just to himself. He masterminded his way right out of winning the Open at Merion by taking driver out of his bag, especially at 18 in the last round. The Scottish Open win proves once again how good he can be when he gets out of his own way.
Garrity: The worst-positioned of the three is Tiger. He has bad memories of Muirfeld, shooting 81 on that cold, horrible, rainy day in 2002. If he's nursing a bad elbow, there couldn't be a worse place for him. Muirfield's principal defense is deep, thick, lose-your-ball rough. One swing from that hay could knock him out of the tournament.
Bamberger: I would not be surprised to see all three contend. Tiger could iron it to death like he did at Hoylake. All these links courses are chess matches, and Muirfield is especially so. Nobody plays links chess like Woods.
Shipnuck: Man, I am so over Tiger. He's gone into how many majors in the last two years playing great? Then he just doesn't get it done. For casual fans, Tiger will always be the default favorite at a major. That's based on an outdated body of work and not supported by his recent results. He now has a mental block at the majors, and this time around his preparation has been compromised by his elbow. He won't have his vaunted reps.
Anonymous Pro: You can never discount Tiger. He'll find a way to contend.
Van Sickle: We don't know how bad his elbow is, so he's a wild card. Meanwhile, does anyone know if Rory still plays golf?
Shipnuck: Rory is such an enigma. He had that swoon last year, but that was more about scheduling and adjusting to being No. 1. He never stopped believing in himself. This year, he looks dejected. For a guy with a happy-go-lucky little strut who made the game look so easy, he seems depressed. This slump is on a much different order of magnitude. I still believe in Rory long term, but this year looks like a washout.