10 Golfers Who Could Pull off a 'Webb Simpson' at the British Open

Kevin CaseyContributor IJune 26, 2012

10 Golfers Who Could Pull off a 'Webb Simpson' at the British Open

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    Golf is a game where great achievements are widely praised but quickly get forgotten.

    It is a sport that offers frustratingly little consistency (unless you're playing poorly), and players at the top of the media's radar one day can soon tumble far down the list.

    Want an example? This year's U.S. Open champion offers a prime one.

    In 2011, Webb Simpson put together an incredible breakout season.

    The 25-year-old, from nowhere, posted two victories and three runner-ups on the PGA Tour en route to a second place finish on the season's money list.

    The man previously known as a short-game extraordinaire and little else developed a well-rounded game with zero noticeable flaws (as his 1st-place ranking in the Tour's All-Around category demonstrated).

    To top it all off, Simpson climbed as high as number six in the world golf rankings and was tracking along brilliantly.

    Yet come U.S. Open time, the Wake Forest grad wasn't even being mentioned among the dark horses, let alone the winners.

    It's a perplexing concept to those who value loyalty above all, but we now live in an age where fans are fast to hop on one bandwagon and even quicker to jump off it.

    How else could one explain Simpson, a headliner coming into 2012, not even getting mentioned as a pick for the U.S. Open despite his game only slightly dropping off?

    We wouldn't want to make the same mistake at next month's British Open Championship.

    So, let us take a look at those players who have shown past golfing greatness yet fly under the radar as we approach the season's third major.

    The favorites may be the safer bets, but as Webb Simpson (and Bubba Watson) showed, a lack of media scrutiny can be a huge advantage.

    Those two may not have that luxury anymore, but this list of players still does.

Branden Grace

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    Nobody has risen faster this season than Branden Grace.

    The 24-year-old went from complete unknown to European Tour stud in 2012, winning three times on the tour in just over three months.

    From a world golf ranking of 258 to start the year, Grace has jumped up all the way to No. 52.

    The young lad even beat fellow South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in playoff for one of his wins!

    Even with all of that, he still has plenty of room to grow.

    After all, he is just 24 and his appearance at Lytham will be just his fifth ever at a major.

    So, it'd be hasty to expect him to seriously contend or win at next month's Open.

    It isn't out of the question though.

    He has competed in three other Opens already (to little avail) and he has won three times this year (albeit not at the most prestigious events).

    He's still quite young and probably far too inexperienced to take home a Claret Jug but stranger things have happened.

    He's an interesting dark-horse pick to say the least, and if he gets in contention, he won't be afraid to take on the game's best.

K.J. Choi

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    How fast K.J. Choi has fallen off the radar!

    A little more than a year ago, the Korean took home the biggest title of his career, the PLAYERS Championship.

    It was Choi's eighth career PGA Tour victory and certainly signaled that his major-less streak would come to an end soon.

    But the progression didn't follow.

    Choi did record two more top-three finishes in 2011, yet was not a factor in any of the remaining three majors.

    A new year didn't help matters either. Choi had a T5 finish at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions but is yet to record a top-10 on the Tour since.

    It is by no means time to give up on the 42-year-old though.

    Every player has their lulls and Choi is certainly no exception; he will get out of his funk soon enough.

    A T15 at Olympic (his highest finish on Tour since Hyundai) may be a sign that Choi is indeed heading in the right direction for the Open Championship.

    This could be very promising as we all know Choi has the game to win a major, especially at a place like Royal Lytham & St. Annes where his accuracy and course-management skills are largely suited for the test.

    So, watch out if he gains some confidence over the coming weeks. If he can find his game going into Lytham, he has an excellent chance to capture the Claret Jug.

Adam Scott

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    Two years after struggling through possibly the worst season of his career, Adam Scott may have had his best in 2011.

    The Aussie held the lead for a time late on Sunday at the Masters before finishing tied for second and put together a dominant performance to run away with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (or was it Stevie Williams who did that?).

    Mixed in were five other top-10s, giving him seven in all for the season, the highest total he'd produced in a season since 2006.                                                                           

    It seemed that his premier ball-striking was as good as ever but his improvement in the putting department was the real key. With the switch to a long putter, Scott found the comfort on the greens that had always eluded him.

    However, the excitement of 2011 hasn't carried into a ho-hum venture in 2012.

    The 31-year-old hasn't played a whole lot this year (especially early on) and his game hasn't really gone in either direction.

    Nine events have yielded just one top-10 but six top-25 finishes. Scott has been pretty consistent—just not at a high enough level.

    The long wand has continued to serve him well and it's only a matter of time before the talented veteran gets his game cooking again.

    At a major where ball-striking is at its most important, the Aussie with the beautiful swing has an ample opportunity to make some noise.

Francesco Molinari

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    Despite being a year younger than big brother Edoardo, Francesco Molinari has been the better of the two on the golf course.

    The Italian has produced some stellar play on the European Tour, winning there twice in the past three seasons (including once in 2012) and finishing as high as fifth in the Race to Dubai.

    Actually, the 29-year-old is less of a winner than a consistent contender. He has only won once in his past two seasons on the European Tour but has recorded 11 total top-10s in the same span and has missed just one cut in his last 34 starts on the tour.

    His name is not well known in the states as of yet, and with good reason. His 34th place spot in the world golf rankings is pretty lofty, but playing over in Europe doesn't get you much attention in the U.S..

    In addition, Molinari has yet to make any serious run at a major championship title.

    Don't be so certain to discard this European though.

    Webb Simpson had never contended in a major before his U.S. Open win, so it's not out of the realm for Molinari to do the same.

    Molinari has started to find his groove at golf's big four, finishing in the top 35 in his last three major appearances.

    Surprisingly, the Open Championship has been Molinari's worst major. In four appearances he has made exactly one cut.

    The short straight hitter's game fits perfectly though for a Lytham layout that punishes players with multitudes of bunkers rather than length.

    His game in the majors is only improving as well, and although a victory at one would be a giant leap, it is far from unprecedented in the annals of golf.

     

     

Bill Haas

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    Is there anyone on the PGA Tour who gets less respect than Bill Haas?

    The 30-year-old produced a career year in 2011 with three finishes in the top two, including a win at the TOUR Championship that secured him the FedEx Cup.

    If that win (and shot from the hazard) wasn't enough, Haas backed up his 2011 campaign by outdueling Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a playoff at the Northern Trust Open with a 40-foot birdie putt.

    Yet, rarely does Haas' name get a single mention come major championship time.

    To be fair, he hasn't sniffed contention at a major in his career, and especially with his recent play of missing four cuts in six starts, it's not unfair for the bookies to give him low odds at the Open Championship.

    That being said, Haas has a lot of good golf on his résumé and has already proven he can beat the best.

    His non-contention streak at the majors should end shortly and maybe as soon as Lytham.

    Logically, Haas needs to progress more in the majors before he can win one, but that didn't seem to bother Webb Simpson.

    Golf isn't a predictable game, and with a rising talent like BIll Haas, a major could come into his hands at any moment.

Nick Watney

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    In 2011, Nick Watney blossomed.

    The American went from good to great, as he morphed from contender to closer with two impressive wins on the PGA Tour at Doral and the AT&T National.

    The man who choked away a 54-hole lead at the 2010 PGA Championship with a final-round 81 found comfort in crunch time.

    The top-notch ball-striker finally found a putting touch, wielding his flatstick magnificently to hold off his hard-charging competitors over the final 18 holes.

    Watney, however, has regressed in 2012.

    The 31-year-old has only two top-10s and five top-25s in 15 PGA Tour starts and his 2012 putting stroke has reverted back to the one that caused him more harm than good in previous years.

    Watney isn't exactly yelling "pick me!" at this moment, but maybe you should take the chance.

    As this list has clearly demonstrated, golf is not a game of linear progression. It is a place where unpredictability rules the day and where good play can quickly sour (and vice versa).

    This 30-something is uber-talented and is just reaching the prime of his career. Yes, his 2012 campaign hasn't backed that up so far, but with a game like this man's, fortunes can change quickly.

    It's definitely a big risk to take Watney at the Open Championship, but with his game, you never know.

Ian Poulter

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    Surprisingly, few have heard from Ian Poulter in 2012.

    The always controversial (and fashionable) Englishman has slogged through a downright boring season of three top-10s in 12 starts and not a cut missed.

    He hasn't contended in a final round at any event really (even his third-place finish at Bay Hill was a distant seven shots behind the winner) and has stayed away from statements that could land him in hot water (like his decree that it would be just him and Tiger one day).

    This could be where Poulter's most dangerous.

    Out of the spotlight and able to move along in peace, Poulter's time could come soon.

    He has long been one of the European Tour's top players, with 11 victories spanning over 12 years. One of those victories was an Accenture Match Play Championship (a World Golf Championship event) and Poulter does already have a runner-up finish at the British Open (in 2008).

    The 36-year-old's name hasn't surfaced since an opening-round 65 at the PLAYERS, but it may again soon.

    Poulter's game is based on precision rather than power, a good fit for Lytham. He's also proven to be a great links player, highly important for any British Open venue.

    Overall though, he is a fantastic golfer who has long been ready to win a major title. He hasn't been able to put one home yet, but with little pressure on him at the Open, this could be his time.

Carl Pettersson

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    For some reason, Carl Pettersson gets vastly underrated.

    Whether it be his ugly swing, "10 beers and a tub of ice cream" gut or his charming but un-electric personality, Pettersson always seems to fly under the radar.

    The Swede has five career PGA Tour wins, and has shined in 2012. Pettersson collected two runner-up finishes at the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Shell Houston Open before romping to a five-shot victory at the RBC Heritage in April.

    Yet his name, as always, has scarcely caused a whisper.

    Well, here's his due then. Pettersson is a great player who absolutely could win a major championship.

    At age 34, he's in his prime years of golf and his play at the beginning of this year has proven as much.

    He's struggled of late but there's no reason to believe that form can't return.

    Let's be clear, Pettersson is a long shot to win at Lytham. This will be his first Open in three years and he has only finished in the top 40 in one of his five appearances at the event.

    Still, his game is too solid for him not to be considered at the Open. All the parts have come together for him at times this season, and if he can show the form he did at Hilton Head, the Claret Jug is as good as his.

Jason Day

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    This young Australian phenom had a groundbreaking 2011 season even without a victory.

    Day, at just 23 years of age, made a stirring final-round charge at the Masters and looked destined to force a playoff before one man's birdie barrage stole the show.

    The second-place finish was followed by another in the very next major championship (albeit eight strokes behind the winner) and the Aussie overall placed in the top 10 on the PGA Tour eight other times in a season that netted him almost $4 million in on-course earnings.

    A year later, at the ripe old age of 24, Day isn't evoking much praise.

    The man who once made headlines for publicly challenging Tiger's hold on the No. 1 spot isn't stirring up much attention nowadays.

    In 2012, Day has finished in the top 10 just twice (with his highest finish being T9), and with a first-round withdrawal at Augusta and a lackluster T59 placing at Olympic, his first two swipes at the majors have hardly resembled last year's exploits.

    It would be foolish to underestimate this fiery young Aussie though.

    His game really hasn't been far off this year (five of his nine starts have resulted in top-20 finishes) and with a splendid short game and confident (if not cocky) attitude in his arsenal, Day is always a threat to turn it on quickly.

    Day's comments about becoming No. 1 were less hysterical than ambitious. He has what it takes to be the world's best player.

    That's not to say he will be No. 1, but don't be surprised if he wins a major soon.

    He's already experienced silver there twice—don't be totally surprised if he gets the gold at Lytham.

Sergio Garcia

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    It wasn't that long ago that the expectations for Sergio Garcia in 2012 were extraordinarily high.

    The Spaniard struggled mightily in 2010, but with two victories near the end of 2011 (including one where his margin of victory was 11 strokes), the excitement grew for what he would do in 2012.

    Well, things haven't gone according to plan.

    While the 32-year-old has made the cut in every one of his starts this season, playing the weekend is not the main priority for a player who has won a combined 17 times on the European and PGA Tours.

    Garcia has failed to add to that win total in 2012 and has rarely contended with just four top-10s in 14 events.

    He's largely flamed out at the majors as well. He was just one off the halfway lead at Augusta, but a dismal Saturday 75 left him reeling, and his performance at the U.S. Open was more notable for him hitting a microphone than a little white ball.

    If anyone knows how to deal with disappointment though, it is Garcia. He's had a career full of it.

    Eight times he has finished in the top 5 in a major championship and eight times victory has eluded him. He has been a runner-up three times in majors and has lost a late lead twice in said tournaments, both to the same man (Padraig Harrington).

    If Garcia can bounce back from all of that, he can certainly rebound from his lackluster start in 2012.

    In fact, the Spaniard plays by far his best golf at the Open. Garcia, a superior ball-striker and less-than-stellar putter, has thrived on the rota of Open courses that favor greens hit more than putts made, posting seven top-10s in 15 starts at the event.

    Garcia showed great promise at the end of 2011, and going to an event that serves his game well may just jump-start his campaign in 2012.