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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2006, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Ten of the best
Tiger WoodsPhil MickelsonVijay SinghRetief GoosenGeoff OgilvyErnie ElsDavid HowellLuke DonaldColin MontgomeriePaul Casey

By Rob Hodgetts

Tiger Woods might be the bookies favourite to win at Royal Liverpool this weekend, with Phil Mickelson hot on his heels, but the Open has a tendency to throw up some obscure champions.

Woods has won two of the last six Opens - but both of those were at St Andrews. In between his wins in 2000 and 2005, few would have picked Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton out from the crowd.

So here is a quick recap of the recent fortunes of 10 of the most likely contenders at Hoylake.

Tiger Woods
Odds: 6-1

Age: 30
World ranking: 1 (as of 18 July)
Best Open finish: 1st (2000, 2005)

Hard facts: Defending champion. Has won twice in the US this term, once in Dubai and was third at the Masters but took nine weeks off after the death of his father in May. Missed the cut at the US Open on his comeback, his only halfway failure in a major since turning pro. Tied second at the Western Open two weeks ago to signify his return to form.

Hoylake hopes: Woods' world was rocked by his father's death and he said he struggled to "get back into the flow" at Winged Foot. But the Western Open suggests he has finished grieving and is ready to hitch his wagon back on the trail of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles.

The only negative is that both Open victories have come at St Andrews, so does this mean the American is purely a horses-for-courses winner? Probably not. Woods is the master shot-maker, a magician at managing his mind and will never give up.

Phil Mickelson
Odds: 10-1

Age: 36
World ranking: 2
Best Open finish: 3rd (2004)

Hard facts: Won his second Masters title in April and would have clinched his third major in a row (he won the 2005 USPGA) if not for a double-bogey finish to hand Geoff Ogilvy the US Open. Has had one victory in America this year and five other top-10s. The Open would be the third notch towards a career grand slam of all four majors, leaving just the US Open to conquer.

Hoylake hopes: "Lefty's" all-grinning golf game will go down a storm with the Liverpool crowds but the Californian will need to play smart and rein back his natural exuberance if he's in the mix on Sunday afternoon to avoid another US Open-style final-hole collapse (via a hospitality tent, tree and bunker).

Vijay Singh
Odds: 16-1

Age: 43
World ranking: 3
Best Open finish: 2nd (2003)

Hard facts: Has finished in the top 10 in each of the last seven majors and is second only to Geoff Ogilvy in cumulative results in the last four. This year on Tour, Singh has won the Barclays Classic and has had nine other top-10 finishes, including eighth at the Masters and sixth at the US Open. Tied for fifth at St Andrews last year.

Hoylake hopes: The languid Fijian, who began 2005 as world number one, has gone quietly about his business this term while the limelight has been focused back on Woods and Mickelson.

A veteran but his work-rate is second to none and major consistency second only to Ogilvy. Tied for second with Thomas Bjorn in 2003 when American Ben Curtis poached the Claret Jug. If not a chart-topper in Liverpool, likely to feature in the backing group.

Retief Goosen
Odds: 25-1

Age: 37
World ranking: 4
Best Open finish: 5th (2005)

Hard facts: Has had four top-10s this term, including third at the Masters but missed the cut at the US Open. But the two-time US Open champion has recorded four straight top-10s in the Open, including fifth last year.

Hoylake hopes: The cucumber-cool South African coped well with the vicious vagaries of the links-style Shinnecock Hills when winning his second US Open in 2004.

Like a swan that is serene above water, but paddling furiously below, the "Goose" possesses the unflappable elegance of countryman Ernie Els but perhaps with a more steely core. Was struck by lightning as an amateur and golf game is due to catch fire again soon.

Geoff Ogilvy
Odds: 50-1

Age: 29
Ranking: 7
Best Open finish: 5th (2005)

Hard facts: Was the shock winner of this year's US Open at Winged Foot after final-hole collapses from Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie. Also won the WGC-Match Play title in February and was second at the Honda Classic.

Hoylake hopes: The Australian's US Open win was not quite so surprising when you consider he has the best combined record of anyone at the last four majors (fifth, sixth, 16th, first).

A distant relative of Sir Angus Ogilvy, part of Britain's Royal Family and an even-more distant relative of Scotland's King of Bannockburn fame, Robert the Bruce. So should be up for a fight then. Golf-style, obviously.

Ernie Els
Odds: 16-1

Age: 36
World ranking: 8
Best Open finish: 1st (2002)

Hard facts: The three-time major winner was first and second in South Africa at the end of last year. Also second behind Tiger Woods in Dubai and has had three top-10s in America this term but was lacklustre at the Masters and the US Open. Won a play-off for the Open in 2003 but has been second three times, including losing in a play-off to American journeyman Todd Hamilton at Troon in 2004. Ninth at last week's Scottish Open.

Hoylake hopes: The "Big Easy" missed a chunk of last season after knee surgery following an accident on a family sailing holiday in the Mediterranean but has floundered in mid-division since his explosive comeback.

Els was arguably the world's best golfer during Tiger Woods' "slump" in 2003-2004 but despite five straight top-10s in majors, including two seconds, he failed to convert any. The South African needs a big result again soon to remind us that his sumptuous talent includes knowing how to win the big ones.

David Howell
Odds: 33-1

Age: 31
Ranking: 10
Best Open finish: 42nd (1998)

Hard facts: Leads the European Order of Merit after victories in China in November - after a final-round head-to-head with Tiger Woods - and in the PGA Championship at Wentworth. Was also 19th at the Masters and 16th at the US Open. Is certain of a second Ryder Cup cap at the K Club in September. Missed last year's Open with a stomach injury.

Hoylake hopes: "Howeller" is the highest-placed Briton on the world rankings and the way his career has progressed, in a slow but steady rise to the top, he could become Europe's first major winner since Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999.

But, and it's a big but. Howell has only made the cut twice in seven Opens. "I've always done rubbish there, I don't know why," he mused.

Luke Donald
Odds: 25-1

Age: 28
Ranking: 11
Best Open finish: 52nd (2005)

Hard facts: Won the Honda Classic in March for his second US Tour victory (the other was in 2002) to climb to a career-high ninth in the world rankings. Has had five other top-10s in America, was 12th at the US Open and finished runner up at last week's Scottish Open.

Hoylake hopes: Donald's unerring accuracy and iron control has made him a major player on the manicured lawns of the PGA Tour. But the former US College star has a woeful Open record, with three missed cuts since his debut as a pro in 2002. Last year he finally made it to the weekend but a third-round 77 sank any hopes.

The talented painter and art history graduate will need to draw more inspiration from the Hoylake links to make a scene this time around.

Colin Montgomerie
Odds: 33-1

Age: 43
Ranking: 13
Best Open finish: 2nd (2005)

Hard facts: Second last year after tense tussle for final 10 holes with Tiger Woods. Threw away golden chance to win his maiden major at the US Open in June when he double-bogeyed the last at Winged Foot, making him the only player to finish second in five majors without winning one. Won in Hong Kong at the end of last year and has had six other top-10s in Europe this term. Eight-time European number one and guaranteed an eighth Ryder Cup cap in September.

Hoylake hopes: He may be 43 but Monty still plays a mean game of golf and his resurgence following last year's Open heroics has breathed new life into his quest to win a major. "I'll only stop thinking about the US Open if I win one," he said. "And that has given me extra motivation."

Monty would have the crowds eating out of his hands if he gets on a roll, and would be second only to local lad Nick Dougherty in the popularity stakes. But if his adoring Scottish brethren could not get him over the line at St Andrews, Monty might need help from another source. So try this. The oldest winner of the Open, Roberto de Vicenzo, who won in 1967 aged 44 years 93 days, did it at Hoylake.

Paul Casey
Odds: 40-1

Age: 28
Ranking: 29
Best Open finish: 20th (2004)

Hard facts: Won the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in June as well as the China Open in November and has had six other top-10s in Europe to lift him to second behind David Howell on the Order of Merit. Was 15th at the US Open and should earn a second Ryder Cup cap in September.

Hoylake hopes: Has been re-born after a season cast adrift in a sea of self-doubt and Stateside scorn. After his anti-American comments last year ("We hate Americans", taken out of context when describing motivation in the Ryder Cup) Casey's form nose-dived. He failed to make a cut from April until August, including an opening 85 at the US Open. "I became paralysed over the ball and was beating myself up on the course," he said.

But the former US collegiate star is back among Europe's hottest young guns pointed at the peak of the game.

Odds provided by Ladbrokes on 18 July 2006

Open tee-off times
18 Jul 06 |  Golf
The BBC at the Open
11 Jun 06 |  Golf

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