2014 British Open Championship picks and predictions: Tiger Woods makes major return at Royal Liverpool

The season's third major is here, but it's the first time this year Tiger Woods will have a chance to pick up ground on Jack Nicklaus' major championships record. Here are some picks and predictions for Tiger, Phil, and the British Open.

The 143rd edition of the Open Championship tees off early Thursday morning at Royal Liverpool, and for the first time this year, we'll have Tiger Woods competing at a major championship. It's been over six years since Tiger last won a major, and if he doesn't win this week, he'll fall behind the pace set by Jack Nicklaus, who got his 15th title (on the way to 18) at the Open at the age of 38.

But with Tiger having just two competitive rounds under his belt in the last four months, surely we can't expect him to contend this week, right? A few of the SB Nation golf staffers got together for a quick discussion on what we can expect from Tiger and others this week at Hoylake.

Who's your darkhorse pick to win or contend down the stretch on Sunday? (odds 80/1 or higher)

Brendan: I'll sign up for Victor Dubuisson at 100/1. The mysterious Frenchman entertained us in his runner-up finish at the Match Play championship back in February, when even the most ardent golf watchers knew almost nothing about him. But Dubuisson leads the European Points list for Ryder Cup qualification, and is entrenched as one of the top players on the Euro Tour. For such a world class player, that 100/1 listing is good value on a venue where he should be pretty comfortable.

Trevor: Miguel Angel Jimenez. No analysis or rationale. I would just really love to see it.

Angel_medium

Mark: I'm going to ride the Brendon Todd train until it falls off the tracks. He has five top 10s in his last six events including a win and four top five finishes. He finished T-17th at the U.S. Open with rounds of 69, 67, 79, 69. If not for a disastrous third round, he may have won. He's 100/1 in the open, which seems like a great value with the golf he's playing.

Who is one big name, or a couple stars, you expect to flame out and miss the weekend?

Trevor: I don’t think this will happen, but if Rory McIlroy doesn’t get his Friday struggles straightened out he could easily find himself with the weekend off. Let’s say he shoots one or two over in the first round and has a blow up day on Friday, he’s going to be heading home. Good thing for Rory is that he has one of the best first round scoring averages in the world but he's the one to watch for this from that group of favorites.

Brendan: I'll take the English pair of Ian Poulter and Luke Donald. Poulter is nursing an injured wrist and will be playing on painkillers all week, so that's an easy choice for this category. As for Donald, the former No. 1 in the world continues to underwhelm at the majors. He hasn't been a factor at the game's biggest events and has missed four straight cuts at the majors. Despite a solid showing last week at the Scottish Open, I think Donald is never heard from this week at Hoylake.

Emily: Tiger. There's the surgically repaired spine, the lack of play, and the ugly results when he has teed it up. The mere fact that he's not every oddsmaker's choice to win his fourth claret jug and 15th major on Sunday (Bovada has him at 18/1, behind Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, and Henrik Stenson) says it all. And now, thanks to my sterling record of throwing darts, you can now safely put your shekels behind the former No. 1 to win it all.

Mark: Nothing about the season Phil Mickelson has had signals he's a good bet to defend his title. There is a major caveat that if anyone is capable of going from disarray to top form like that, it's probably Phil. He played The Open beautifully last year, I just haven't seen anything close to that form this year.

What are you expecting from Tiger Woods this week? Will he make the cut? Where will he finish?

Trevor: My heart says he will be in it, but logic says he has no shot this week. He looked rusty at the Quicken Loans National. More concerning is that his swing looked fundamentally off. But as he pointed out at his press conference this week, he won the 2008 U.S. Open with little-to-no preparation. There is one problem though, this isn’t the same Tiger. It wouldn't surprise me to see him make the weekend, but I don’t think he’s going to be a factor.

Emily: However he does, we'll get to see every shot he makes, thanks to ESPN3, the online service provider of ESPN that will livestream the entirety of Tiger's rounds -- not that that's any different from the TV coverage of any other tournament in which Woods competes. Anyone else wonder if the Worldwide Leader will repurpose the All-Tiger/All-the-Time technology on Saturday and Sunday should Woods be back in Florida by then?

Tiger_woods_photo_credit-_steve_flynn-usa_today_sports_medium

Photo credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Brendan: I expect Tiger to make the cut -- he's just too smart and disciplined playing this setup not to edge over half the field with his institutional knowledge and experience (he won the Open here in 2006 hitting driver just once in 72 holes). But he doesn't have the game right now to contend, and while he sets his expectations at "winning and nothing else", it's foolish to think he'll be in it late on Sunday. I think he'll finish somewhere in the 30s on the leaderboard and turn his full attention toward trying to get one at Valhalla in a few weeks.

Mark: I think he not only makes the cut, but finishes top 25. Even though he missed the cut at Congressional, you could see glimpses of his form coming around. That was only after a matter of days of hitting full shots. With a couple of weeks of practice under his belt, he should be sharper. I think it helps this week that he can largely take driver out of the equation if he chooses. He doesn't need to power the ball all over and can instead use his experience and shot-making skills to his advantage.

Can Phil repeat? Can he even contend?

Emily: Absolutely, and why the heck not? But it's as unlikely as Lefty hoisting the claret jug in 2013 since he enters the proceedings with no top-10 finishes and three missed cuts in 15 PGA Tour events, including at Augusta, this 2013-2014 season. Again, hope you have your bookie on speed dial.

Trevor: He hasn’t had the best season, but he did play well last week at the Scottish Open. Of course he can contend, but I don’t know if he has what it takes to repeat. I get the feeling that all the stars aligned for Phil to make his run last year. Top 10 is possible, but I just can’t see a win.

Phil: We never know what to expect with Phil, and that's what has made him so fun to follow over the last decade. The putting has been so poor and he has no feel up on the green right now that it's hard to see him making a move this week. He looked fine at the Scottish a week ago, an event that ignited his run to the Open title last year. Phil has done nothing at the Masters, The Players, and the U.S. Open, and I think that trend continues overseas. He'll make the cut but won't be around in the mix late Sunday at Royal Liverpool.

What do you enjoy most (or least) about the Open? Where does it rank for you among the four majors?

Trevor: For me, it’s No. 2 behind the Masters. I love the tradition and history. It’s also fun to watch a different kind of golf. Growing up in the United States and playing golf here is completely different. It’s always fascinating to see players adapt and change their game to play links golf.

Brendan: I may just be saying this because it's happening this week, but I think it's my favorite. I enjoy and love them all, but the Open is so unique that it sticks out as the most fun major to follow. Unfortunately, much of the American audience doesn't watch it at the same rate as the others because of the time difference. But, on a personal level, I remember watching so many Opens early in the morning or the middle of the night and day drinking at hours that would be completely unacceptable in other circumstances.

The Open is so unique that it sticks out as the most fun major to follow

There's also the links setting, the above-average ESPN announcers, and totally unpredictable conditions.The Masters, a self-important event that has hyped itself into the most prominent major, can get tedious with all its sacred traditions. And the U.S. Open can get boring with all the bogeys and protection of even-par.

Mark: It's hard to top the Masters, largely just because of the anticipation for major season to begin. The build up to Augusta is part of what makes it so great. If we focus on just the four rounds of golf, the British Open is my favorite. I love the unpredictability of the weather and the emphasis on shot making and playing to what the course gives you. I like that players might play the same hole four different ways because of the weather. I also think it's the most-wide open of the four majors with bombers and shorter hitters each having advantages and disadvantages.

Who's your winner of the 143rd Open Championship?

Emily: Tiger Woods. Whether he emerges triumphant, comes in DFL, or goes 2-for-2 in post-microdiscectomy MCs, Eldrick, who in his absence dominated the first two majors of the men's golf season (as well as rejoicing ESPN ratings executives), will totally win the week at Royal Liverpool.

Trevor: I’m picking Rickie Fowler. It may be surprising, but his T2 at the U.S. Open really impressed me. Sure he didn’t really make a run down the stretch, but it’s not like anyone was going to catch Martin Kaymer. He played well at the Scottish Open last week and has said many times how much he enjoys links golf. I think Fowler can win one for the 20-something crowd after a stretch of 40 year olds taking home the claret jug.

Brendan: I think Henrik Stenson finally gets his first major championship, completing his career comeback from the dregs of the world rankings. Stenson has finished tied for third or better in three of his last five starts here, so this is a tournament and style where he's definitely comfortable. After some early-season fatigue following that ridiculous playoffs sweep to end 2013 as the hottest player in the world, Stenson now seems to have his footing again, trending upward and back regularly inside the top 10 at almost every event he plays. I think the Swede wins this week at Royal Liverpool.

Mark: Jordan Spieth. He may only be 20 years old, but he has the game and mentality to do it. Spieth has done a lot of impressive things during the last year and a half, but his work at Congressional may have been the thing that impressed me the most. He got thrown into the Tiger return buzzsaw playing with Woods on Thursday and Friday. Like Woods he struggled on Thursday and shot a 74. It would have been easy to miss the cut, but he recovered to finish tied for 11th. It seems no matter what happens he always finds himself in the mix on Sunday. A year and a week after he notched his first pro win, I think he picks up his first major.

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