The British Open begins next week, and any list of potential winners begins and ends with Tiger Woods ... or so many would have us believe.
Of course, it's not that simple. Woods rightly assumes the role of favorite, which anyone who wins the U.S. Open by 15 shots clearly deserves. But he isn't going it alone at St. Andrews.
Here is a brief scouting report on the players who have the best chance. And, for the record, none of this is guaranteed.
-- Woods: St. Andrews is short enough and also wide open enough to be right up Tiger's alley. Plus, he enjoys the challenge of playing links golf and thinking his way around the golf course ... as he carves it up.
-- Ernie Els: Second at the Masters and the U.S. Open, he is confident he needs only to putt better to complete his game. He has been hanging out at Sibow Castle near Dornoch, built in 1235 and once owned by the legendary Lord Earl Grey ... which leads to this obvious question for Els: Is St. Andrews his cup of tea?
-- Colin Montgomerie: This may be the British Open in which he proves that he doesn't have some sort of oddball complex about playing well in his home country. Few hit irons any better and few suffer more when putts don't fall, and that is usually the case for Monty in the Open Championship.
-- Lee Westwood: He won the Smurfit European Open last week in Ireland -- his third European Tour title this year -- and showed up in the interview room drinking a pint of stout. He said: ''If I'd wanted to be an athlete, then I'd have taken up 400-meter running.''
-- Nick Price: He narrowly missed his first PGA Tour victory in two years when he lost to Robert Allenby in a playoff last week at the Western Open in Lemont, Ill., but the 1994 British Open champion is a tough customer when he has confidence in his putting.
-- Justin Leonard: When he's on his game, who putts better? No one did in the last round at Royal Troon in 1997, when he won his only major. He can get the ball to do what he wants in the wind, and that just might come in handy at the Old Course.
-- Jesper Parnevik: His left hip is bothering him, so you never know. He was treated for the problem in Sweden by Christian Steiner, an osteopath who travels with Sting. So there is hope for him. Maybe now when he tees it up, he will have a brand new day.
-- Darren Clarke: He is strong, he can putt and he can beat Woods, which he proved at the Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship at La Costa in February. But can he do it in July?
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