Philadelphia, PA – As one would expect, Tiger Woods is the clear betting favorite heading into next week's British Open Championship.
The three-time Open champion is one of two players in the field with three wins this season. Branden Grace is the other.
Woods entered the season's first two majors coming of victories, but will head to Royal Lytham & St. Annes coming off his second missed cut of the year.
Maybe that strategy will work for Woods, who failed to contend at the Masters and U.S. Open.
After Woods, the next two highest-favored players are two of three golfers ahead of Woods in the world rankings - Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
Interesting that the third-ranked player in the world, Rory McIlroy, is only the fourth-best bet to win the year's third major.
Looking at his results for the season, Westwood has posted two straight similar results most of the year. He had three top-five finishes in a row, then finished in the 20s at his next two events.
Westwood shared third at the Masters and tied for fifth at the Wells Fargo. After failing to contend at the Players and BMW PGA, he won the Nordea Masters and tied for 10th at the U.S. Open.
Unfortunately for the Englishman, he is coming off a tie for 40th at the Open de France. If he stays on form, he won't be much of a factor next weekend.
Donald, like Westwood, is trying get out of the conversation of best golfer never to win a major. Donald has won once in Europe and once in the U.S. this year, but is coming off a missed cut at the U.S. Open.
The 34-year-old opened with a 67 in his title defense at the Scottish Open on Thursday, but is five off the early lead.
In his previous 11 British Open starts, Donald's best finish was a share of fifth in 2009 at Turnberry. This will be his first Open at Royal Lytham.
As for McIlroy, he has been way too inconsistent to peg as a favorite this week. In his last six starts, he has four missed cuts and two top-10 finishes. If he breaks par in round one next week, he can contend. If he doesn't, it'll be another weekend on the tennis courts with his equally famous girlfriend.
Much further down the list of favorites is the defending champion, Darren Clarke. He has just two top-20 finishes all season, and one was in a Match Play event.
Clarke did finish fourth in 2001 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, so I wouldn't completely count him out next week.
During the last two Opens at Royal Lytham, 1996 and 2001, there was one name that appeared in the top 10 both times - Ernie Els.
The South African shared third with Clarke in '01 and tied for second in 1996, two strokes behind winner Tom Lehman.
Els came back from the disappointment in 2001 to win this title in 2002. The Big Easy has six top-10 finishes worldwide this year, but has yet to win an event.
Could this be the week he breaks though?
Els is a good bet at the Open Championship as his odds stand at 40-1. Three others at that number are Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Louis Oosthuizen.
I wouldn't be surprised at all if the winner next weekend came from that quartet.
POTTER GOES FROM MINORS TO BIG TIME WITH 1 WIN
At the start of the 2011 season, Ted Potter, Jr. didn't even have status on the Nationwide Tour, as it was known then. After his win last week, he'll play in next week's British Open and earned himself a spot at the 2013 Masters.
It has been a long strange trip for Potter.
He started professional golf in 2004 on the then-Nationwide Tour. He bounced on and off that tour for several years, and won the NGA Hooters Tour player of the year award in 2006 and 2009.
Potter's climb to PGA Tour-winner status began in earnest early in the 2011 season on the Nationwide Tour. He earned a spot in the South Georgia Classic field as a Monday qualifier.
He went on to win and became the first Monday qualifier to win on that circuit since 2006. The win propelled him to a second-place finish in the money list, which helped him gain his PGA Tour card for this season.
Potter seemed to be back on a path to the Web.com Tour for 2013 as he missed nine cuts and had only two finishes inside the top 45.
All that changed when he strung together four rounds in the 60s last week, including back-to-back 64s on the weekend.
Prior to this year, Potter had never played a PGA Tour event. Now that he has won, he'll play his first major next week.
He's living the dream that many others have failed to live. Lucky him!
* The European Tour canceling the Madrid Open was a big blow. That tour seemed ahead of the PGA Tour in growth, despite the struggling economy the last several years. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
* The British Open is actually overbooked as of now. U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson has yet to withdraw due to the anticipated birth of a child. If he goes forward and plays, and no one else pulls out, the field will stand at 157 instead of the normal 156.