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Knocking off contenders one by one

7/17/2012 - Golf Lee Westwood

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?

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.