Why Woods comes out on top in my collection of classy challengers
THE time and place is right for Woods to resume his pursuit of the record 18 Major titles won by Jack Nicklaus.
Nobody is better equipped for the strategic challenge of Muirfield, as he proved in victory at Hoylake in 2006, the last sun-baked and bone-dry British Open. Woods slumped in last month's US Open but struggled at Merion with an elbow injury sustained on Sunday at the Players Championship at Sawgrass as he purred to his fourth PGA Tour win of the season.
Now fit again, Tiger's course management skills that week showed he once again has the mental acumen to prevail here.
2 GRAEME MCDOWELL
AN astonishing run of three victories and five missed cuts racked up by McDowell in eight events since April's US Masters seems to suggest the Portrush man could swing either way at Muirfield.
However, his recent wins on tight strategic courses at the RBC Heritage, Volvo World Match Play and Alstom French Open by far outweigh any of the 2010 US Open champion's recent setbacks. Surprisingly, McDowell has just one top-10, last year at Royal Lytham, in nine British Open appearances.
Yet he brings the ring-craft and the confidence of a Celtic Warrior as he heads into action with Tiger this afternoon.
3 ADAM SCOTT
THE Claret Jug dropped into the lap of Ernie Els at Royal Lytham last July as Scott endured a nightmare final-day collapse reminiscent of his boyhood idol Greg Norman's at the 1996 US Masters.
The Australian cried for the Great White Shark on that occasion but shed no tears for himself after squandering a four-shot lead with bogeys on each of his final four holes last year.
Instead, Scott (33) showed grit and class by keeping his nerve in sudden death at April's Masters before winning a dramatic shootout with Angel Cabrera.
He steps out on the links this week with the self-assurance of a Major winner.
4 PHIL MICKELSON
NOT so long ago, it would have been impossible to tip Mickelson to win the British Open.
However, the American icon has learned how to hit his ball beneath sea breezes and to putt with confidence on subtle links greens that used to perplex him.
The four-times Major champion, who counts a runner-up finish to Darren Clarke in 2011 among just two top-10s in 19 visits to the British Open, last weekend received the heady endorsement of his first victory on linksland at the Scottish Open.
He is in the perfect frame of mind this week to put mesmeric short-game skills to best effect on a course he enjoys.
5 JASON DAY
MANY golfers have impressive credentials this week.
A superb first Major success for Justin Rose last month would have made him a cast-iron candidate to join Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods on the short list of those who have won the US and British Opens in the same year – had he played a tournament since his Merion triumph.
Defending champion Ernie Els and European nearly-men Thomas Bjorn and Sergio Garcia also have pressing reasons to indicate that they can claim the Claret Jug.
However, the exquisite ball-striking skills of Day (25) suggest this gifted Australian, who is world No 17, may improve on his record of four top-three finishes in just eight Majors.