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Weekly 18: All in on Rickie Fowler at Royal Birkdale

From ESPN - July 17, 2017

It's a long trip from Weekly 18 headquarters to this week's Open Championship. How long? Long enough to ponder anagrams for Royal Birkdale, which include Bad Roar Likely (but at least never a "Baba Booey" over here), Ladylike Arbor (strange for a links course), A Dorky Liberal (hey, it's not a Trump-owned venue) and Railroad By Elk (an obvious reference to Rory McIlroy's decreased social media presence -- and on-course performance). On to bigger, and undoubtedly more pressing, issues as this W18 is all Open, all the time.

1. I did not just pick Rickie Fowler to win this year's Masters. I wrote an entire column detailing exactly why it would happen. That's the kind of thing that will get a guy the #OldTakesExposed treatment, but instead I am doubling down. That's right: I am picking Fowler to win The Open. He loves links golf, but more importantly, he's ready to win a major. When he walked off Erin Hills after the final round last month, another golden opportunity gone awry, there was a quiet confidence around him, one which suggested he knows something we do not. He then said all the right things: He was pleased with his play that week; if he keeps knocking on the door, he will win one; he ca not let that pressure bother him too much. That's the kind of attitude that gets rewarded. It's the kind of attitude that has me picking him to win this week -- again.

2. The most common mistake made by the masses when it comes to predictions? It's the same thing those commercials often warn in regard to the stock market: Past performance is not indicative of future results. Do not believe it? Ask the crowd that for years clung to the notion that Sergio Garcia would never win a major. Someday soon those crowing that Fowler will never claim one -- and it's a large group -- will be eating that crow instead. Just because something has never happened before does not mean it never will.

3. The alarms have officially sounded for Rory McIlroy. Last week, he missed a second consecutive cut for the first time in more than two years and he's now MC'd in three of his past four starts, which equals the same number as he owned in his previous 25 tournaments. At Dundonald in the Scottish Open, he reached only 50 percent of greens in regulation and needed 30 putts per round -- each number below the field average. That's an ugly combination.

4. The biggest issue for McIlroy? According to him, it's the fact that he still has not played enough tournament golf this year, having twice been sidelined already due to a recurring rib injury. "I have been playing catch-up all year," he said after the latest MC. "I just have not played enough. I'd love to have played more." Therein lies a Catch-22: McIlroy needs more competitive rounds to play better, but must play better in order to get more competitive rounds. At some point, something's gotta give.

5. My buddy Michael Collins and I recorded a podcast with Rafa Cabrera-Bello a few months ago and I came away from the conversation thinking that he walks, talks, looks and acts like a superstar. The only thing missing is that superstar rsum, but it's getting there. RCB won the Scottish Open in a playoff -- somehow, just his first victory in the past half-decade -- and should be a hot name for punters going into this week.

6. I mean, seriously, how good is this guy's life? Cabrera-Bello was born in the Canary Islands, lives in Dubai, owns a place in the surfing haven of Bali and is engaged to a Swedish model. Oh, and he's really good at golf and a nice guy and makes a great living. Yeah, decent life, I suppose.

7. These were Padraig Harrington's four rounds at the Scottish Open: 67-68-79-66 (T-4). (Raise your hand if you can spot the outlier.) On the surface, it might look discouraging that one poor round ruined his chances of just a second European Tour victory in the past nine years. Really, though, the entire result should offer a huge boost of optimism going forward. Just a month ago, Harrington was hit on the elbow by the practice swing of an amateur golfer while giving a clinic and believed he might have suffered a career-ending injury. Instead, he returned a few weeks later and has quickly become relevant once again.

8. If you did not watch Harrington play last week, you are in for a treat. His current swing can be described only as Modified Happy Gilmore as he steps into the ball at address and lifts his front foot during the backswing. "Every player knows those moves," he explained. "They are training drills, pretty much." Well, they are also working right now -- and it's pretty fun to watch, too.

9. Harrington, of course, won The Open the last time it was contested at Royal Birkdale, back in 2008. He had not been back to the course since, until a recent visit for a corporate outing. I asked him about that visit afterward and while he explained it did not uncover any forgotten memories, he did try to recreate his famed 5-wood from 249 yards on the 17th hole that landed 3 feet away and led to a decisive eagle. "It took more club; it was a different wind, though," he told me, then offered the greater reason why he could not get it there: "You just ca not recreate the adrenaline."

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