Commentary

Parity the name of the game at Open

Updated: July 18, 2012, 8:59 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Among the pleasurable pursuits in the United Kingdom available to those who choose to do so is the ability to place a legal wager on sporting events.

You don't have to walk very far in any of the small towns surrounding this year's Open Championship venue to find a betting shop giving all manner of odds for the year's third major championship. (Tiger Woods is the favorite at 10-to-1, by the way.)

And yet, who other than those with cash to burn bets on a golf tournament, especially a major, given the current state of the game?

[+] EnlargeWatson
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBubba Watson, the 2012 Masters champion, believes players these days are so well trained at such a young age. That's why they are competing so well at the highest levels of the game.

Good luck picking the winner of the Open Championship, which begins Thursday morning at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

When Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open last month, he became the 15th consecutive different major winner since Padraig Harrington's PGA Championship win in 2008.

He also became the ninth straight first-time major winner since Phil Mickelson won the Masters in 2010. In the modern era -- since 1934 -- there had been only six first-time major winners in a row.

Since Lefty last won at Augusta National, the major winners have been Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Simpson.

Of those nine players, only McIlroy has added another victory on the PGA Tour -- although McDowell, Oosthuizen and Kaymer have other worldwide wins.

Still, nobody is exactly dominating the majors these days, and prognosticating seems all but impossible.

"I think experience in major championships is overrated," Mickelson said. "It's not anywhere near as important as playing golf at a high level, no matter their age or experience level.

"Whoever is playing the best golf is typically going to compete and win majors, regardless of experience."

And yet, that is not generally the accepted wisdom. Sure, Bradley became just the second player in 100 years (joining Ben Curtis in 2003 at the Open Championship) to win a major in his first attempt when he captured the PGA Championship last year. But it typically doesn't work that way.

At the previous major, Clarke, at 43, won the Claret Jug in his 20th attempt, the longest such streak in the championship's history. It usually takes some bumps and bruises before players are able to capture majors, and there are numerous examples over the years.

Heading into the U.S. Open, Simpson had missed two cuts and he was tied for 29th through 36 holes at the Olympic Club. Anybody have Webb winning on that Sunday?

Today -- at least in this run of golf -- hints, guides or form charts appear meaningless.

"The fields are deeper, there's no doubt," Woods said. "You need to have a hot week at the right time. That's what it comes down to. I think that there are more guys now who have a chance to win majors championships than ever before, and I think that will just continue to be that way."

Of course, Woods no longer hoarding them has something to do with the situation.

From the 2000 U.S. Open through the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods won 12 of the 33 majors played. Mickelson won three and Retief Goosen two. Or more than half were won by three players.

Following Woods' U.S. Open victory in 2008 at Torrey Pines, he had knee surgery that knocked him out of the remaining two major championships that year. Harrington won them both, and nobody has repeated since, with only Mickelson and Angel Cabrera (2009 Masters) adding to a previous major victory.

"It probably speaks to how good a player he was that he was able to dominate," said No. 1-ranked Luke Donald, still searching for his first major. "Even though there are some great players around now, no one has really come through and started to win consistently at the majors.

"So I think that speaks for what an amazing run he went on and he's still continuing to do. It just speaks to how difficult it is to win majors."

The game goes through these spurts. When Woods won his first major at the 1997 Masters, he was the 12th consecutive different major winner since Nick Price won his third major at the PGA Championship in 1994.

"I think golfers are evolving," Harrington said. "When I came out in '96, you kind of felt like you had to learn how to win and maybe lose a few tournaments before you were allowed a win. ... [Now] guys are turning up and if it's their week, they can win any week. Rather than the attitude of, I've got to be there all the time and serve my apprenticeship before I win."

Said Watson, the Masters champion: "I just think it's one of those things. You can't guess who is going to win every time. All these up-and-comers are changing the game. You've got [Ryo] Ishikawa, Rickie Fowler, you've got McIlroy ... from different parts of the world but young. You've got all these young guys learning.

"The game is growing. Tiger has made the game grow so much in every country, every part of the world, that people are getting better, they're practicing more, training, working out, eating better. ... Tiger has helped grow the game that much that, as Tiger gets older, there's more young people getting better at the game, so the game is getting tougher to win."

In major championships over the past four years, Woods has missed four due to injury and has six top-10s and a runner-up finish at the 2009 PGA Championship. But for the past three majors, he's been a nonfactor, missing the cut following his return from injury at the PGA Championship, then finishing tied for 40th at the Masters and tied for 21st at the U.S. Open -- where he was tied for the lead through two rounds.

Nonetheless, head into any betting establishment in Lytham St. Annes -- they are not difficult to find -- and Woods is the favorite. At Ladbrokes on Monday, he was getting 8-to-1. It had gone up to 10-to-1 on Tuesday.

Does that mean the betting public is down on Tiger? Perhaps. But betting on anyone to win a major championship these days seems an exercise in tossing money out the window.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com