Special Formula Promises to Predict Winners

Champ: Woods? Furyk? Mickelson?

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MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- In 2003, we devised a formula for picking a U.S. Open champion. Based on many factors we'll delve into soon, we correctly chose Jim Furyk to win at Olympia Fields.

The next year, we picked Phil Mickelson. Second place. The year after that, we took Tiger Woods. Another runner-up finish.

Let's just say the formula has seen its share of success. So without further ado, what you've all been waiting for: the winning formula for this year's U.S. Open champion.

This might sound surprising, but of the 156-man field, the first player to be eliminated is Vijay Singh. Why? Because he won last week's Barclays Classic. Yes, we know Singh's ranked No. 3 in the world and yes, we know Mickelson won the BellSouth before his Masters triumph, but it's part of the rules and we're sticking to it.

The next group of players to be eliminated is the amateurs. No man who didn't play for pay has won the Open since Johnny Goodman in 1933. That takes out nine more players, including recent NCAA individual champion Jonathan Moore of Oklahoma State.

If you think it has been a dry spell for amateurs, that's nothing compared with the one for U.S. Open rookies. No player making his debut in this event has won since Francis Ouimet's famed victory at Brookline in 1913. Sure, we'd love to see another Greatest Game Ever Played, but it ain't gonna happen. Thirty-three more guys, including super Swede Henrik Stenson, are gone.

Hale Irwin is a legend here at Winged Foot. He didn't exactly tame the course back in 1974, but he played well enough to win the Massacre with a score of 7-over-par. Sixteen years later, Irwin became the oldest Open champion ever when he claimed the trophy at age 45. Irwin's record is safe, as are bets against those aged 46 and older, meaning 17 more out of the mix.

When Steve Jones made it through sectional qualifying to win at Oakland Hills in 1996, he was ranked 100th in the world. No one has ever been lower (although Michael Campbell, at No. 80, was close last year), so those 37 players left with a triple digit next to their name can pack it in.

Europeans have seen a major championship drought ever since Jean Van de Velde removed his shoes and socks at the 1999 British Open, paving the way for Scotsman Paul Lawrie to claim the Claret Jug. But their absence in the U.S. Open winner's circle is even lengthier, dating back to Tony Jacklin in 1970. The streak continues this year, meaning solid candidates David Howell, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and 19 others will see their hopes dashed once again.

For those scoring at home, we're down to 40 or so players with a chance to win, and it's time to crunch the numbers.

With the three-tiered rough and fast greens so prevalent at Winged Foot, it's going to take a guy with strong iron play and solid putting to win. With that in mind, we remove a gaggle of contenders by implementing this caveat: If your combined rank for greens in regulation and putts per round is more than 100, you're out. Among others, this removes -- gasp! -- Woods.

We're down to nine, and the list is an elite one: Mickelson, Retief Goosen, Furyk, Adam Scott, David Toms, Tim Clark, Rory Sabbatini, Scott Verplank and Lucas Glover.

Of the four previous winners at Winged Foot, the average age is about 30. Two players from this list are exactly 30 right now -- Clark and Sabbatini.

So, now it's decision time, although the past results say it's really not much of a decision at all. We're going with the guy who has seen major championship success (T-3 at last year's Open; runner-up in April's Masters) and is ranked 14th in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 U.S. Open champion: Tim Clark.

David Carabello is ESPN's golf researcher. Two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North is an ESPN golf analyst.

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