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Monday, July 16, 2012
Knocking off contenders one by one

By Matt Willis
ESPN Stats & Info

There aren't many times during the year when rolling out of bed in the early-morning hours on a weekend is an attractive option.

Among the acceptable reasons are getting up to play golf, and watch the Open Championship. But what fun is watching an event without both a rooting interest to get behind and a pick that you'll brag about if you hit it or quietly ignore if he misses the cut?
Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood never won a major despite arguably being the best ball striker in the game. The Eliminator thinks the Worksop, England native will be clutching the Claret Jug in joy on Sunday night.

So many pundits and prognosticators will be making a pick for this weekend's Open. Some will analyze recent results, others will just go with a hunch, many will simply pick Tiger Woods. I like to do things a little differently, though. Instead of picking a sole winner, I'll pick a bunch of non-winners. I know I'll get most of those correct. My methods? I'll use a mix of trends and statistics to figure out reasons why a majority of the golfers just can't win.

In the end, there'll be just one golfer left from a starting field of 157, and by process of elimination, he must be the 2012 Open Championship winner. I call this process the Eliminator. Let's go.

First of all, look for at least a little bit of prior Open Championship success. Since 1970, 38 of the 42 Open winners had a prior top-25 finish in the event. That'll wipe out more than half of the field, 84 in all, and leave us with 73.

Variety is the spice of life, and it's also been the theme in recent majors. There's been 15 different winners in the past 15 majors played, and the past nine each won their first major championship. So of the remaining 73, let's eliminate the 30 who have won a major before and leave just those looking for their first taste of a major win.

Experience has ruled recently at the Open Championship. Six of the past seven winners had made at least 10 prior starts in the year's third major. Let's take out 24 more, youngsters such as Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Dustin Johnson, leaving 19.

Don't forget about other majors when picking your winner. Six of the past seven Open Championship winners had a previous top-10 finish in both the Masters and U.S. Open at some point in their careers. Let's take out the dozen golfers who don't have a top-10 in both events. Sorry, Luke Donald and Adam Scott, you're not among the final seven.

Last year's winner, Darren Clarke, was past his 40th birthday, but that's the only major winner in the past 30 majors to be over 40. Go back even further and 50 of the past 52 major winners were under 40. Steve Stricker, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Robert Karlsson are out, and we have just four left.

Let's take out those last three, shall we? Four of the past seven and seven of the past 12 Open Championship winners had a top-seven finish in that same year's Masters. My apologies to Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Justin Rose, but you all fell just short.

Count me among those who will be getting up early this weekend to watch Lee Westwood finally break through and hoist the Claret Jug.

Remember, the numbers never lie! The Eliminator: Step-by-Step:

1. Since 1970, 38 of the 42 Open Championship winners had a previous top-25 finish in the year's third major.

83 eliminated, 73 remaining

Golfers eliminated:

Steven Alker

Aaron Baddeley

S.M. Bae

Matthew Baldwin

Warren Bennett

Keegan Bradley

Rafael Cabrera-Bello

Alejandro Canizares

Greg Chalmers

Daniel Chopra

Russ Cochran

Nicholas Colsaerts

Nicholas Cullen

Adilson da Silva

Jamie Donaldson

James Driscoll

Jason Dufner

Alan Dunbar

Rafa Echenique

Harris English

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano

Richard Finch

Marcus Fraser

Yoshinori Fujimoto

Hiroyuki Fujita

Andrew Georgiou

Branden Grace

Bill Haas

Ashley Hall

Justin Hicks

Michael Hoey

Charles Howell III

John Huh

Kodai Ichihara

Ryo Ishikawa

Brendan Jones

Ian Keenan

Troy Kelly

Brad Kennedy

Simon Khan

K.T. Kim

Jbe Kruger

Matt Kuchar

Anirban Lahiri

Martin Laird

Pablo Larrazabal

Marc Leishman

Joost Luiten

Morten Orum Madsen

Mardari Mamat

Prayad Marksaeng

Troy Matteson

James Morrison

Garth Mulroy

Toshinori Muto

Kevin Na

Koumei Oda

Steven O'Hara

Thorbjorn Olesen

Juvic Pagunsan

Scott Pinckney

Ted Potter Jr.

Richie Ramsay

Chez Reavie

Elliot Saltman

John Senden

Marcel Siem

Jeev Milkha Singh

Lee Slattery

Brandt Snedeker

Kyle Stanley

Richard Sterne

Toru Taniguchi

Steven Tiley

Aaron Townsend

Manuel Trappel

Bo Van Pelt

Grant Veenstra

Johnson Wagner

Sam Walker

Bubba Watson

Dale Whitnell

Mark Wilson

Gary Woodland

2. The past nine major winners were each first-time major winners.

30 eliminated, 43 remaining

Golfers eliminated:

Angel Cabrera

Mark Calcavecchia

Stewart Cink

Darren Clarke

Ben Curtis

John Daly

David Duval

Ernie Els

Jim Furyk

Lucas Glover

Retief Goosen

Todd Hamilton

Padraig Harrington

Trevor Immelman

Zach Johnson

Martin Kaymer

Paul Lawrie

Tom Lehman

Davis Love III

Sandy Lyle

Graeme McDowell

Rory McIlroy

Phil Mickelson

Geoff Ogilvy

Louis Oosthuizen

Charl Schwartzel

Vijay Singh

Tom Watson

Tiger Woods

Y.E. Yang

3. Six of the past seven Open Championship winners had at least 10 prior starts in the event.

24 eliminated, 19 remaining

Golfers eliminated:

Thomas Aiken

Jonathan Byrd

Chad Campbell

Tim Clark

George Coetzee

Simon Dyson

Ross Fisher

Rickie Fowler

Anders Hansen

Peter Hanson

Gregory Havret

Raphael Jacquelin

Thongchai Jaidee

Dustin Johnson

Hunter Mahan

Francesco Molinari

Alexander Noren

Greg Owen

Carl Pettersson

Alvaro Quiros

Robert Rock

Andres Romero

Tadahiro Takayama

Nick Watney

4. Six of the past seven Open Championship winners had a previous top-10 finish in both a Masters and a U.S. Open.

12 eliminated, seven remaining

Golfers eliminated:

Robert Allenby

Stephen Ames

Thomas Bjorn

Paul Broadhurst

K.J. Choi

Luke Donald

Bob Estes

Fredrik Jacobson

Barry Lane

Justin Leonard

Ian Poulter

Adam Scott

5. Twenty-nine of the past 30 and 50 of the past 52 major winners were all under age 40.

Three eliminated, four remaining

Golfers eliminated:

Miguel Angel Jimenez

Robert Karlsson

Steve Stricker

6. Four of the past seven and seven of the past 12 Open Championship winners had a top-seven finish in that year's Masters.

Three eliminated, one remaining

Golfers eliminated:

Paul Casey

Sergio Garcia

Justin Rose

Your winner: Lee Westwood

Matt Willis has been a researcher with the ESPN Stats & Information Group since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows.