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Kragthorpe: British Open will produce proven winner

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Kurt Kragthorpe

By Kurt Kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

First published Jul 17 2013 08:33AM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:35PM

Now that he’s graciously allowing other golfers to hoist major championship trophies, Tiger Woods is noticing the trend.

Everybody’s winning these tournaments lately. The nearly uninterrupted run of first-time major winners has continued this year with Adam Scott’s victory in the Masters and Justin Rose’s triumph in the U.S. Open, and Tiger knows why this is happening.

"The fields are so deep now and the margin between the first player and the last player is not that big anymore," he said during a news conference in advance of Thursday’s start of the British Open at Muirfield in Scotland.

While the pattern of new champions emerging is unmistakable, so is Muirfield’s history. And that creates a major conflict this week.

The men — and only men, which is another story — who make up the membership of Muirfield are known as The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, proper spelling and all.

The exclusivity extends to the British Open winners on this course. History shows that nobody who’s not headed directly to the World Golf Hall of Fame should even think about winning at Muirfield. Just look at this partial list of champions: Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els.

I’m a big believer in this stuff. Golf has a way of ordaining certain things. As a U.S. Open host, The Olympic Club established a history of missed opportunities for Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Watson and Payne Stewart. Those four already had claimed a combined 26 major championships, but they couldn’t come through at the end in San Francisco.

That’s where Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open last year, and deservedly so. Sorry, but Muirfield would not allow him to win on its grounds.

So as much as Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Lee Westwood and others seem to be on the verge of their first major titles, this is not the time or place for a career breakthrough.

Everything about Muirfield points to somebody with the credentials of Woods or Phil Mickelson winning. And yet at this stage, a victory for either of them would defy convention.

A convergence of factors has kept Tiger from winning a major for five-plus years. Even as a professed defender of Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories, I’m shocked that Woods has remained stuck at 14 — and at this point, who knows if he’ll ever get No. 15.

Muirfield’s history would say it could happen — maybe even should happen — this week.

Then there’s Mickelson, who once disdained links golf. "I used to hate it and now I love it," he said. Could you imagine him winning a British Open before he wins a U.S. Open, having finished second six times in his national championship?

Mickelson won last week’s Scottish Open, evidence that he’s expanded his game and rediscovered his ability on the greens. "I believe I have found the secret to my own putting," he said, while keeping it a secret.

There’s another trend in play this week. Hardly anybody claims a major the week after winning a tournament.

"But then again," Mickelson said, "the last player to do it, you’re looking at him."

That was in 2006, when Mickelson followed a victory at the PGA Tour’s Atlanta stop with his second Masters triumph. He doubled up in Georgia, and would love to do the same in Scotland.

So the British Open winner might be Woods, might be Mickelson, might be any number of deserving players. Whoever it is, the home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers will make sure you’ve heard of him.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

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