Open Championship experts' picks

— -- Each week of the season, our experts share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week, golf's third major invades Royal Liverpool as the 143rd Open Championship gets underway Thursday.

Horse for the Course

Farrell Evans, senior golf writer: Tiger Woods
Sure, Tiger is not the same craftsman that he was in 2006, when he put on a display of ball-striking for the ages on his way to his third Open Championship, but no one has ever been better than him at Hoylake.

Bob Harig, senior golf writer: Tiger Woods
Most players have little experience at this venue, which last hosted the Open in 2006. Of course, Woods played it the best that year, famously hitting just one driver for the week and shooting 18 under par to win his third Claret Jug.

Ian O'Connor, senior writer: Lee Westwood
He grew up on links golf, and he should've won the Open at Muirfield last year. Maybe the time is right for Westy to become this year's first-time major winner after Justin Rose, Jason Dufner and Adam Scott took last year's honors.

Gene Wojciechowski, senior national columnist: Graeme McDowell
Royal Liverpool is McDowell's kind of course. He grew up playing these types of courses in Northern Ireland. And you don't need to be a bomber to win here. McDowell has the game and the experience to do well here.

Birdie Buster

Evans: Justin Rose
The 2013 U.S. Open champion has won his last two starts: the Quicken Loans National and the Scottish Open, which was a nice primer for what players will face at Hoylake.

Harig: Justin Rose
After battling an injury at the beginning of the year and having mixed results since his return, Rose has finally found his form.

O'Connor: Bubba Watson
Yeah, he could shoot 80 here, but if he gets it going early, watch out. The two-time Masters champ is an explosive talent, and he has the extreme power to reduce Hoylake to a par-3 course.

Wojciechowski: Justin Rose
Is anyone playing better or more consistently than Rose? He just won the Scottish Open, and two weeks earlier he won at Congressional. Nobody is playing with more confidence than Rose.

Super Sleeper

Evans: Robert Karlsson
A two-time participant on the European Ryder Cup team, Karlsson has struggled in recent years, but his game has been in good form over the last month. In the last two weeks, he finished fourth at the French Open and tied for eighth at the Scottish Open.

Harig: Angel Cabrera
A victory two weeks ago at the Greenbrier Classic was his first regular PGA Tour win to go with his two major titles. And he seemingly ups his game for the majors.

O'Connor: Tiger Woods
If only because this is a rare opportunity to call one of the all-time greats a sleeper. Tiger has played only two competitive rounds since back surgery, and few expect him to even make the cut. But he did win at Hoylake in 2006, and he is still, you know, Tiger Woods.

Wojciechowski: Hideki Matsuyama
I don't know whether Matsuyama is an official super sleeper, but that's who I'm going with. He has played in only one Open Championship (last year at Muirfield), but he finished T-6. And he won a pedigree tournament earlier this year, the Memorial. Even Tiger Woods gives Matsuyama's game his stamp of approval.


Evans: Rory McIlroy
The 25-year-old Northern Irishman is due this week to add the Open Championship to his list of major titles, including the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. At Hoylake, he will jump-start his summer with four good rounds that should put him at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon.

Harig: Graeme McDowell
The 2010 U.S. Open champ rallied to win the French Open two weeks ago, and his game ought to be perfectly suited for Royal Liverpool, which does not require length as much as it does strategy.

O'Connor: Justin Rose
He won last week's Scottish Open and Tiger's tournament at Congressional. The 2013 U.S. Open champ has the hot hand and the right attitude: The Englishman has finally decided not to treat his "home" Open as anything but another major, and that approach should liberate him.

Wojciechowski: McDowell
A Woods win would be epic. A Phil Mickelson win would mean back-to-back Claret Jugs. A Rory McIlroy win would quiet his critics. But I'm stuck between G-Mac, Rose and Matt Kuchar. An educated hunch: McDowell.