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2015 British Open picks and predictions: Jordan Spieth continues Grand Slam chase at St. Andrews

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Is Tiger Woods coming around with his new swing? Can Jordan Spieth keep it up at the Home of Golf? Some predictions for the week at the British Open.

The oldest major championship in golf returns to the world's first course for the 29th time. The 144th Open Championship may have lost world No. 1 and defending champ Rory McIlroy, but it still features the first Grand Slam hopeful since 2002. Jordan Spieth strolls to Scotland holding the Masters and U.S. Open titles and as the heavy favorite to pick up the third leg.

There's also that guy from 2002 who last matched what Spieth has done so far in 2015, and has already won two Opens at this venue. Tiger Woods looked much better in one intervening start since the U.S. Open, but we still don't really know what to expect from the 241st-ranked player in the world. The SB Nation golf crew -- Brendan Porath, Emily Kay, Mark Sandritter and Trevor Reaske -- discuss the themes of this Open and makes some predictions for the week at the Old Course.

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

Mark: I'll take Danny Lee at 100/1 simply because he's coming in playing very well. He won two weeks ago and was nearly in the playoff last week. Whatever he's doing right now is working.

Brendan: Tommy Fleetwood was 66/1 at the start of the week, but he's a name that very few people know. As others have noted this week, he's got a strong track record at St. Andrews -- 41-under through his last eight rounds and a share of the course record 62. The Englishman is just 24 years old, but he's already acquitted himself at some of the biggest events in the game, including a T27 at the U.S. Open, a run to the sweet 16 at the WGC Match Play and a T10 at last week's Scottish Open.

Deeper down the odds board is Jamie Donaldson, who I always seem to default to for these dark horse picks at the majors. The Welshman showed well enough at the Scottish last week and he seems like a good value bet to make a run at contention at another major.

Who is one big name, or a couple stars, you expect to bomb out early and never contend?

Emily: Bubba. Remember "water on the club face" at last year's PGA? With rain and 25 mph wind gusts predicted for Friday afternoon (Watson tees off at 2:01 p.m. local time), social media should be awash in #PrayForTedScott tweets.

Mark: Watson seems like a very solid pick. It will be interesting to see how the course plays to his eye. If it doesn't, the frustrations start and things could spiral south. Ian Poulter finished tied for 54th at the U.S. Open and I could see a similar result this week. He's been up-and-down at St. Andrews in The Open with a T64, T11 and T60 in his three appearances. I think this week is similar to 2000 and 2010 and he is a non-factor.

Trevor: Bubba Watson seems like he counts himself out before tournaments even start. In his presser he mentioned that shaping shots in wind is not something he is comfortable with. Well, it looks like the wind will blow this week. Combine that with the fact that he has never finished in the top 20 at the Open Championship, I could see a missed cut for Bubba.

I also wonder if Dustin Johnson will have any sort of U.S. Open hangover. It doesn't seem like he had a problem getting over it, but at some level it has to affect him. It wouldn't surprise me to see him struggle.

Brendan: I'll go with DJ's playing partner in that Sunday final tee time at the U.S. Open, Jason Day. The Aussie rose to prominence and up the world rankings less for his wins on the PGA Tour and more for his constant contention at the majors. Day already has eight top 10s at the majors. So you would think the No. 9 player in the world might be a good pick at the Home of Golf, but he's never come close at The Open and his game does not seem to fit links golf.Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee even went so far as to say he didn't have the artistry in his game right now to succeed here. Day is better-suited for the high-bombing drives and precise yardages of American venues. Unlike the U.S. Open last month, I don't think he's much of a factor from the jump.

In addition to Day, Bubba was an automatic choice here but because everyone else already brought him up, I did not want to be redundant. I felt obliged to mention his name though to make it unanimous.

What are you expecting from Tiger Woods this week at a place where he's won twice and he calls his favorite course on Earth? Will he make the cut? Where will he finish?

Emily: Two words: Slow. Greens. Tiger says he hit the ball better at the Greenbrier than he has in two years and he's returned to a favorite venue where he earned two of his three Claret Jugs. Yes, there was that bogey-free final score in West Virginia but three rounds in the 60s only got him a T32 in a relatively lackluster field. Even Brandel Chamblee says Tiger's making progress with his clubs, which he seems to be swinging with more certainty, but those sluggish putting surfaces are already in his head. He makes the cut and then it's on to the Quicken Loans National.

Brendan: Emily stated it well. I bust Tiger more than most, and had thought it was hopeless a little more than a month ago. But I was encouraged by the Greenbrier. Yes, that's maybe the easiest course on the PGA Tour, but there were clear signs that whatever he wants to call this swing change (a "baseline shift?") is maybe taking hold. He knows this venue and it's not especially penal for his wild driving, the weakest part of his game. I think he makes the cut and finishes just inside the top 25, which is a long way from where he was three weeks ago at the U.S. Open.

Trevor: I think he will contend. I joked after the U.S. Open that Tiger and Spieth would go head to head down the stretch, but if Tiger can keep it in the ball park (which he did well at the Greenbrier) and make a few putts, his experience at this course can keep him near the top of the leaderboard.

Mark: Occasional flashes have been there at times this season, but it never sticks and he's yet to play well in all facets in a tournament. I could see him using his experience combined with a few decent shots to hover right on the cut line. He won't putt well enough on the slow greens, however, so it will be a lot of burned edges, griping and a early morning tee time on Sunday.

Is there a first time major winner / Louis Oosthuizen (the runaway 2010 champ at St. Andrews) possibility out there this week?

Mark: He was an afterthought on Sunday, so it's easy to forget Patrick Reed began the U.S. Open with a round of 66 and looked poised to win his first major. He crumbled on Saturday, but still finished T14, his best result in a major. He missed the cut at the Masters last year then went T22 this year. He also missed the cut at The Open last season, but he certainly has the game to win it this year. The biggest question is whether he can avoid the disastrous round. He doesn't have to be brilliant all four days, but he can't have that really bad round. If he limits the damage, he could be the guy this week.

Emily: Sure, Rickie Fowler would be a possibility and a popular champion. With two global wins this year, Spieth's real rival going forward (sorry, Rory) has to like his chances of pulling off a Phil Mickelson and going back-to-back at the Scottish and British Opens.

Trevor: Fowler could be that guy. Although he's not really an under-the-radar player, he is playing really well and finished second at the Open last year. He loves links style golf and should do very well this week.

Brendan: See my pick to win below.

Is an Open Championship made more significant by being at St. Andrews? Where does the season's third major rank for you among the game's biggest events?

Brendan: It is absolutely made more important at St. Andrews. When The Open is held here, it's the best major of the year -- even better than that little invitational down in Georgia. "If you're going to be a player people will remember, you have to win the Open at St. Andrews," is the famous Jack Nicklaus quote. That's probably pushing it a little too far these days, but winning at St. Andrews is certainly on another level than your average Open title.

The Open doesn't do as well in the United States because of the time change, but the middle-of-the-night golf is a fun tradition and unique links style courses are what make this the most enjoyable major of the year. That overnight golf used to facilitate late night drinking with friends, but now it aids all-hours newborn care. It's still a fun tradition for one week of the year, and it's at its best at the Old Course.

Mark: Without a doubt it is. With the current course cycle, there is a five-year buildup to The Open returning to St. Andrews and as soon as the final putt is made on Sunday, the countdown will immediately start again. The Old Course and a great field -- even without Rory McIlroy -- is a wonderful combination. That's good enough to be my No. 2 major of 2015 behind the Masters. The buildup and anticipation for major championship golf helps Augusta win out on this one.

Emily: St. Andrews is the iconic home of golf and the winner will gush endlessly about how special it was to win the third major of the season on the Old Course, but the real question is: Open Championship or British Open? OMG, must we go through this mind-numbing linguistic exercise every year? Please just stop.

What do you expect from Jordan Spieth? Will the Grand Slam chase live on or die in Scotland?

Mark: Like McIlroy at the PGA Championship last year, I'm simply going with the hot hand and it's tough to have a hotter hand than Spieth right now. Would more experience and rest help coming in? Certainly, but I'll take his demeanor and ability pick his game up at the biggest moments over experience and rest. He's just playing too well right now to not be the favorite.

Emily: He's obviously playing well, with tons of confidence, and, despite the nice-guy demeanor, can put the hammer down with the best of them. But scampering around in a few days to learn the course he has only played on a simulator, without the wind he is likely to experience on Friday afternoon, will send him home without the Claret Jug, but with a lovely parting gift. Heir Jordan will receive a spot in the record books next to Arnold Palmer (1960), Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Tiger Woods (2002), each of whom had his calendar slam hopes dashed at the British. Top-10 finish for Spieth.

Brendan: He is playing too well to completely flame out, but the odds are against taking the first three majors of the year. It appears he will be on the wrong end of the draw and given the short turnaround time, there do seem be a few things working against him this week. I think he'll make the cut and finish inside the top 20, but not push the lead down the stretch on Sunday (and I hope i'm wrong).

Trevor: Nothing surprises me about this kid anymore. I fully expect him to be in the mix.

Who's your winner of the 144th Open Championship?

Emily: The dart lands on Louis Oosthuizen, who overcame a horrendous opening-round 77 (in the company of Tiger, who carded an 80) to rebound and put a fright into into Spieth at the U.S. Open. He draws Woods again for the first two rounds at St. Andrews, but we don't really expect a Chambers Bay redux from Tiger, do we? Oosthuizen says he is inspired by the wonderful memories of his 2010 win on the Old Course and has tremendous confidence in his new, Spieth-like putting technique (look at the hole, not the ball) that almost earned him the U.S. Open crown.

Trevor: I'll go with Fowler. He's creative, embraces links golf and the tough conditions. His win last week at the Scottish Open showed me he is ready to make the jump to a major championship.

Mark: I'm going with Spieth to pick up the third leg of the Grand Slam and set the stage for an incredible PGA Championship. He has the game to overcome some inexperience and not many of the players experience at St. Andrews are exactly at the top of their game right now. Plus, if he's going to win the Grand Slam, having the British Open victory be at St. Andrews would just be perfect.

Brendan: Three weeks after that ghastly end to the U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson returns at St. Andrews and wins his first major. I think we've keyed in, as expected, on the three-putt at the last green. DJ blames an unlucky bounce on those awful and unpredictably bouncy greens at Chambers Bay. That may be the case, but I'm also choosing to remember the driver and 5-iron that preceded it as well as maybe the greatest driving week we've ever seen at a U.S. Open.

That length off the tee is, indisputably, a huge advantage at St. Andrews. He's playing too well and has that natural edge with the driver that I think this is the week DJ gets it done, and runs away comfortably so he doesn't have to rely on his putter at the 72nd hole.