Golf’s British Open (or The Open Championship as the fine folks across the pond will tell you) tees off this week with Jordan Spieth having a chance to do what nobody has accomplished in over 60 years– win the first three Majors of the calendar year.  The window of opportunity is a little wider as the defending champ Rory McIlroy is out for this week’s tournament with an injured ankle suffered while playing soccer.  No, soccer haters–it wasn’t while faking an injury.

Spieth is the sixth man to attempt the “Hogan Slam”…named so because Ben Hogan is the only golfer to complete that triple play.  How did the other four fare?

2002– Tiger Woods.  Fresh off winning his 7th Major in 11 tries, Tiger was poised to land one step closer to the “true grand slam” as opposed to the “Tiger Slam” from 2000-01.  Woods was in contention after following up a first round 70 with a second round 68…but imploded in a rain-swept Saturday by carding an 81.  Despite a Sunday 65…Woods finished tied for 28th and wouldn’t win another major for almost three years.

1972– Jack Nicklaus.  Not only had Jack won two straight majors, but he also held the other three titles at the time.  But let the record show he did not win three straight majors; through a strange quirk that saw the PGA reschedule their 1971 championship from August to February. Nicklaus finished second by one stroke to defending champ Lee Trevino despite firing a final round 66.  It wasn’t as close at Jack’s “Duel in the Sun” with Tom Watson five years later, but this was perhaps his second most frustrating runner-up finish in that major (and he has plenty to choose from–a record seven).

1960– Arnold Palmer.  This was the year that this tournament became the third leg of golf’s majors as Palmer made competing in the Open a priority;  previously most American pros shied away from competing in the Open Championship as the cost of travel was prohibitive to whatever they would wind up earning overseas.  Palmer finished one shot behind Kel Nagle (the only major Nagle would win in his career) after carding a final round 68.  Arnie would be back–with his army–and win the next two British Opens.  The ripple effect was in the future:  while Americans (Ben Hogan and Sam Snead) had won the tournament just twice from 1934-60, Americans would win the British 16 of the next 23 years.

1953– Ben Hogan.  The course at Carnoustie played rather unforgiving as only six finished under par.  Hogan got better as the week progressed–shooting 73-71-70-68.  Hogan’s run is more impressive when one realizes that he was just four years removed from a near-fatal car crash where he suffered a double-fracture of the pelvis plus fractures to his collarbone and left ankle.  In those days the final two rounds of the British Open were played on Friday– so Hogan walked 36 holes that day en route to victory.  Glenn Ford plays him in the movie.

1941– Craig Wood.  Never had a chance to try for the triple play because World War II had cancelled the Open Championship from 1940-45.  Wood did earn one spot in history:  as the first man to lose all four majors in extra holes (he lost the 1935 Masters to Gene Sarazen, the 1939 US Open to Byron Nelson, the 1933 British Open to Denny Schute and the 1934 PGA Championship to Paul Runyan).

Even minus McIlroy, the field is far from a walkover.  Slicing and dicing through the notables:

Jordan Spieth (9/2 odds)– Pros: he’s won both majors played this year…that takes a lot of skill and a little luck.  Spieth is just beginning to find his ceiling, and is young enough not to realize how ridiculously huge this tournament is for him.  Cons: he’s won both majors played this year…and may have used up all the luck when Dustin Johnson 3-putted the final hole of the US Open.  The rest of the field is too good to hold off…and this is a 23-year old kid at ST. ANDREWS (knees shaking).

Dustin Johnson (12/1)– Pros:  he came this close to winning last month’s US Open…and revenge is a dish best served cold on a Scottish shore.  The 31-year old is just hitting his peak, with one victory and seven top 10 finishes already this year–and he enters this weekend rested.  Cons:  Johnson hasn’t played since that fateful 3-put last month…that’s a long time between starts to effectively golf.  This also means his last competitive hole was that 3-putt.  You’re not telling me he might be a little pre-occupied?  Especially when he plays with Spieth for the first two days?  Rust, anxiety and regret make one horrendous cocktail on the course.

Rickie Fowler (16/1)– Pros:  he’s on a roll, having just won the Scottish Open last weekend.  Fowler finished tied for second last year (one of four top 5 Majors finishes in 2014);…and he brings a certain style that makes the tour a little more interesting. Cons:  the hair.  And clothing.  Do you think the golf gods are going to let him win at St. Andrews?  Fowler also missed the cut at the US Open (a course that played like a British Open course).  Plus, isn’t the Scottish Open like the Masters Par 3 as far as jinxability? (I can say that, I’m 25% Scottish).

Justin Rose (18/1)– Pros:  he’s proven he can win on the Major Championship level (US Open-2013).  Rose has played well in Majors this year (tied for 2nd at the Masters) and has contended at the British Open before (tied for 4th).  He’s also won this year (Zürich Classic).  Cons:  that 4th place finish?  1998!  That’s not just Rose’s most recent top 10 finish, but he’s missed the cut more than he’s made it at the Open Championship this decade.  To top it off:  unlike previous years, Rose won’t have the Quicken Loans/AT&T/Tiger National to prepare him for Open.  Congressional gets you ready for Majors, or at least really bad traffic on River Road.

Henrik Stenson (20/1)– Pros:  he finished 2nd last year and has played well in Majors as of late (4 top fives in the last two years).  Stenson tied for 3rd the last time the Open was played at St. Andrews.  And with it being a decade since the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Sweden needs a little excitement.  Cons: the European hasn’t actually won in Europe since 2006 (Dubai Desert Classic is European Tour but technically in Asia).  Stenson hasn’t played that well this year, either (19th in the Masters, 27th at the US Open).  You think its rough being a Swedish golf fan?  Wales’ hopes rest on Jamie Donaldson.  Let’s just say that Sweden and Wales will likely remain tied in Open Championship winners after this weekend.

Guys we hope are hanging around Sunday morning…because it will elevate breakfast somewhat:

Tiger Woods (20/1)– He’s won at St. Andrews twice, but hasn’t had a top 5 Majors finish in two years.  Tiger’s coming off his best tournament compared to par (7-under at the Greenbrier) and if anyone can turn it on after wandering in the wilderness, it’s the guy with 14 Majors. But he also missed the cut at the US Open (on a course similar to Open Championship tracks).  The putter remains a problem.  And the new generation of challengers is just too good…and not afraid enough.

Bubba Watson (33/1)– Bubba is like a country breakfast.  Plays big.  Plenty of excess.  Bacon, ham or sausage?  Bubba enjoys all three with extra home fries and syrup just because.  Sad to say the Open Tournament is a little more refined than the Masters Watson has won twice, despite what they tell you at Augusta National.  For the record, the fact that a continental breakfast is actually smaller than a country breakfast is major false advertising.

Phil Mickelson (33/1)– Lefty won the Open in 2013…so it doesn’t burn a hole in his golf heart like his quest for the US Open does.  St. Andrews and the lovable dad don’t get along too well either– Mickelson finished 48th five years ago and 60th in 2005.

Sergio Garcia (33/1)– Do you know…Sergio?  Incredibly underwhelming?  World of talent with no majors?  Heavyset thin guy?  One still wants to think of this guy as the teenager who went toe-to-toe with Tiger at the 1999 PGA Championship.  Sergio’s playoff loss to Padraig Harrington in 2007 is the closest he’s come to winning the British Open–or a Major at all.  But–he’s only 35.  One year older than Phil when he started winning Majors.  It’s not so far-fetched… is it?

Tom Watson (750/1)– It would be much longer odds if the 5-time winner didn’t finish second in 2009.  Watson dominated the British Open like none other in the modern era…winning 5 claret jugs over a 9-year span.  He beat Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino during their heydays while also keeping multiple-Major winners like Hale Irwin and Nick Price from padding their totals.  In 1984 Watson while not ready to challenge Nicklaus’ then-record 17 Majors was at least ready to pass the likes of Gary Player and Ben Hogan…and maybe Walter Hagen.  But runnerup finishes that year in the Masters and British Open was just the beginning of Watson not winning another Major after the age of 33…after being so dominant for such a spell.  Just to illustrate to the Tiger fans who can’t believe one can stop winning Majors at age 33–it can happen in this fickle game.  But for one last Thursday and Friday– Watson competes against the one course he did not win on during his heyday.  Here’s hoping he makes the cut…

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