SI Golf Group convened a panel of experts -- senior writers Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle along with special contributor John Garrity and a Tour player who participated on the condition of anonymity -- to tackle these topics ahead of the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
1. Will Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson be a factor at Royal Liverpool?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Their games are miles away. It's far more likely that they'll both miss the cut than that either one will contend.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Ooh, strong statement. I don't think they'll be a factor either.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Tiger and Phil are the kings of spin. What they say is going on doesn't match what we see. Neither one of them knows which way his drives are going.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger plays extremely well on courses where he's had success. He's finished top four a number of times at Augusta, even when he's arrived with his game in tatters. I expect nothing less from him at Hoylake -- a top four or better. As for Phil, I'm not looking for much. Which means he'll contend as well.
John Garrity, special contributor, Sports Illustrated (@jgarrity2): I'll counter that Hoylake isn't going to be the course Tiger won on in 2006. The wind didn't blow then, there was no rough, and the course was baked so hard that he used driver only once. It'll be an entirely fresh layout for everyone.
SHIPNUCK: I agree with Michael that these guys are most dangerous when you count them out. Even taking that into account, I guess I've lost my belief. We've had the great pleasure and the curse of having seen Tiger at his best. We have this institutional respect for the man and his talent, but a lot of that has eroded along with his body. I don't think that Tiger Woods exists anymore.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Tiger clearly wasn't ready at Congressional. The one part of his game that we thought could be ready, his short game, was horrendous.
VAN SICKLE: Forget the shots. Tiger didn't even look good picking his ball out of the cup.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Tiger's iron play is always decent, and that has saved him the last few years. He is still hitting double crosses off the tee. He had five months off, he comes back and plays two days, and then says he has to rest? I don't get it.
BAMBERGER: I think he gets bored hitting balls at home or losing $50 to Rickie Fowler in a money game. Tiger wanted to see what he had, and at Congressional it wasn't much. When he found out how little he had, he must've thought, Well, that doesn't make me want to play again. In the past, it would've been, I've got to figure something out and quick.
SHIPNUCK: Tiger was motivated last year to prove he could get back to No. 1. Was that his last gasp? Was that his one last run? Those are legitimate questions. The early reports say Hoylake will be more penal, with ankle-high rough. That doesn't suit Tiger or Phil.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Phil has no top 10s this year, and his putting is horrible, especially inside five feet.
VAN SICKLE: Being consistent is overrated if you're consistently poor, as Phil has been on the greens.
GARRITY: We don't know what's going on with Phil. Until last year the Open hadn't been his cup of tea. It's hard to imagine him suddenly turning into Tom Watson and being a factor again.
SHIPNUCK: Still, there's an element of romance to Phil's golf. He gets inspired at Augusta and Pebble Beach and certain places. When he said winning at Muirfield was his most satisfying victory, that tells you something. He may find some magic at Hoylake. We thought he'd find it at Pinehurst, and he didn't, which clearly hurts that theory.
2. There's a temporary void at golf's summit. Who do you nominate as the Open favorite?
BAMBERGER: He has already won the first British Open of 2014, at Pinehurst No. 2: Martin Kaymer.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Kaymer has to be the obvious favorite because of how he performed at the Players and the U.S. Open. Any favorite almost has to be a Euro, because no Americans are doing anything. If not Kaymer, then it should be Justin Rose, based on his wins at Congressional and at the Scottish.
SHIPNUCK: Start with Rose or Graeme McDowell, who are both coming off victories and have world-class games. Rory McIlroy has proved that being unburdened suits him, but hard and fast courses haven't been his forte. Adam Scott has a good Open record but hasn't been able to close on the final nine.
VAN SICKLE: Kaymer is the de facto best player in the world despite what the slow-moving World Ranking says. He won the biggest tournament in May and the biggest tournament in June, and now here comes the biggest tournament in July. Anyone else see a trend?
GARRITY: Based on recent Opens, the favorite should be somebody old. Darren Clarke won it. Greg Norman and Tom Watson nearly won it at advanced ages, and even the last two champions, Ernie Els and Mickelson, aren't exactly kiddies. Watson said at Turnberry that the Open was the only major where he could still contend because shotmaking makes the difference. So give me an old guy. How about Bernhard Langer?
SHIPNUCK: How about Tom Watson himself? He had three rounds in the 60s at the Greenbrier. And the fact that he's Ryder Cup captain and people go to him to hear him pontificate -- it's put a real spring in his step. Why not Tom Watson one more time?