2012 Open Championship: 25 Big Names Who Will Struggle Mightily at Royal Lytham

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIJuly 2, 2012

2012 Open Championship: 25 Big Names Who Will Struggle Mightily at Royal Lytham

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    The 2012 Open Championship at the Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s Golf Club will particularly benefit links-oriented players, but that is not the style of many of the world’s top golfers.

    The past two times the Open has been played at this venue, scores by the champion have reached double digits under par.

    However, with over 200 yards of added length and the adjustment to a par 70 rather than a par 71, Royal Lytham isn't likely to be the birdie fest it has been in recent Open Championships.

    Especially if Mother Nature shows her teeth in the form of windy conditions and sideways rain, expect a much terser test this time around.

    Here are 25 of the world's best players who will struggle at the British Open.

Luke Donald

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    Aside from the 2009 Open Championship where he finished tied for fifth, Donald’s next best results in the tournament are a tie for 11th and a tie for 35th.

    Add on six missed cuts in 13 events, and it’s pretty clear Donald can’t quite hack it in the major he probably wants to win most.

    Even though he still has to be considered the No. 1 golfer in the world right now, he never seems able to be in proper form entering a major for whatever reason.

    Until Donald turns the tide and is able to show he can consistently compete in majors—particularly in the Open Championship—he shouldn’t be considered among the favorites.

    Based on his track record, all indications are that he will once again struggle.

Phil Mickelson

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    After his best career showing with a tie for second last year, Phil's mindset has to be better entering the 2012 Open.

    It's been an incredibly up-and-down season for Mickelson, who hasn't played much in the past two months. He bewildered quite a few people by withdrawing from Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament after one round of very poor play.

    After two weeks off, things didn't get better for Phil. He finished tied for 65th at the U.S. Open and hasn't teed it up since.

    Due to the recent downward trend in his game, expect last year's Open Championship result to be another blip rather than a trend for Phil at this event.

Steve Stricker

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    Thanks to a renaissance beginning in 2006, Stricker is perennially included in the dreaded "Best Player to Not Win a Major" conversation.

    Unfortunately for the mild-mannered Wisconsinite, Royal Lytham won't be the stage to snag that elusive first major.

    Stricker had T8 and T7 showings at golf's third major in 2007 and 2008, but never really threatened to win. This was due in large part to his usually reliable putter letting him down, especially from close range.

    In the past two-and-a-half years, Stricker has failed to register a top-10 in a major tournament.

    While it could easily be argued that the No. 12-ranked golfer in the world is beyond due, this year's Open Championship won't be his week.

Lee Westwood

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    Another near-miss at the Masters this year and a horrific break in the final round of the U.S. Open still leave Westy major-free.

    At some point, you have to wonder how much more the 39-year-old Englishman can take. To be so close to winning a major so many times and falling just short has to be mentally draining, to say the least.

    The No. 3 player in the world will be under the microscope once again at the Open Championship, the place where he'd likely love to win one of golf's four most significant tournaments for the first time.

    Westwood is probably immune to the pressure now—immune to the criticism; to the constant ribbing. He's one of the best personalities with the media in the game, and he always has a sharp wit and something to say.

    He's certainly had a strong 2012 season, with two wins and eight top-10s in just 14 appearances.

    Nothing is giving a huge indicator that he'll struggle at Royal Lytham, but how much heartache must a player endure as such an elite player before winning one of golf's most prestigious championships?

    It seems endless for Westwood, and I have a feeling it will culminate in a disappointing finish in three weeks.

Jim Furyk

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    The 42-year-old Furyk proved he had plenty left in the tank at the U.S. Open, when he was in control for most of the final round.

    An uncharacteristic snap hook off the 16th tee on Sunday would sadly seal his fate in his bid to win his second U.S. Open championship.

    Last month's major was the first time Furyk had been in the thick of it in such a tournament on a Sunday in about three years, and he was fueled by critics who said he was over the hill.

    "Two years ago, I was the Player of the Year in the United States," Furyk said. "I played poorly last year, and all of a sudden, I'm middle aged. So, I’ve got to be honest with you, that pisses me off."

    While a player of Furyk's caliber probably should have more than one major on his resume, the 2012 Open Championship doesn't seem like the proper place for it.

    The major across the pond has been particularly unkind to Furyk lately. His past three results: T34-CUT-T48.

    Given that, on top of his shocking fall at Olympic Club, it's difficult to imagine Furyk faring very well at St. Anne's, despite his renowned grinding ability.

Bubba Watson

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    Bubba golf. What more needs to be said?

    The freakishly long and impossibly creative Watson may have the imagination to suit a links-style course, but his uncompromising strategy may be his undoing.

    Watson didn't adjust his strategy accordingly at the U.S. Open, as he tried to smash the ball around the course and overpower it. That just didn't happen, as the reigning Masters champion missed the cut.

    It remains to be seen whether he learned anything from that experience.

    I doubt it.

    Since Watson is almost exclusively self-taught, save for pointers from his father, he's one of the most independent minds in the game.

    It sounds so ridiculous in a game as maddening as golf to be stubborn enough to say, "I'll figure it out on my own." Somehow, Watson makes it work, and it's one of the best stories in golf today.

    The only problem is there is only one voice telling Watson what to do with his golf game at any particular moment: his own.

    He is also taking three weeks off ahead of the Open to work through the logistics of buying a new house and to fill out adoption paperwork, both of which sound pretty time consuming.

    Watson has only played the Open three times and missed the cut twice, and must prove himself at least once that he can adapt his game to suit the Open. Until then, he will continue to struggle.

Padraig Harrington

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    The two-time Open champion has resurfaced this year after going through some changes to his game.

    Harrington has posted stellar results in majors this season, with a tie for fourth at the Masters and a tie for eighth at the U.S. Open.

    These are all encouraging signs, but the one chink in the armor for Harrington in 2012 has likely kept him from multiple wins and an even more spectacular year: putting.

    Splitting time between the European and PGA Tours, Harrington has averaged nearly 31 putts per round overseas and is 120th on the PGA Tour in total putting.

    With these underwhelming statistics, expecting Harrington to roll it in like he used to coming down the stretch doesn't seem feasible at the Open this year.

Keegan Bradley

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    What has happened to Bradley since Round 2 of the Masters this year?

    The 2011 PGA Champion started off this year with some solid play, but since the 77 on Friday at Augusta, he has not been the same player.

    Three missed cuts have followed in the seven events since, and Bradley hasn't posted a result better than a tie for 24th at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

    Bradley is only 26 years old and still one of the top young players in the game today at No. 23 in the world rankings.

    The recent form he has displayed does not give any indication that Bradley will have beginner's luck at Royal Lytham, which will be his debut appearance in an Open Championship.

Zack Johnson

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    Since emerging victorious at the PGA Tour's Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Johnson has struggled in his past three tournaments.

    Also not working in the 2007 Masters champion's favor is that he has never finished better than last year's T16 result at the Open Championship, and it was only his second time in eight tries inside the top 20.

    Johnson relies on precision and a low, drawing ball flight, so it is surprising that he hasn't fared better at previous Opens.

    In today's game, however, power also helps immensely. Especially in Opens with blistering headwinds, the top players need to be able to pound the ball, and keeping it low will only help so much.

    Elite power is something another Johnson on tour definitely has (Dustin), but it is not an elite skill for Zach.

Louis Oosthuizen

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    Taking full advantage of going in the morning wave of a nearly impossible afternoon at St. Andrew's, Oosthuizen used the cushion as a springboard to run away with the 2010 Open.

    The 29-year-old South African has one of the most difficult names to pronounce, but one of the best games in golf, no doubt. He nearly won his second major at the Masters, losing to Bubba Watson in a sudden-death playoff.

    Oosthuizen's swing coach, Pete Cowan, talked about how great his client really could be in an interview with Sports Illustrated, after writer Alan Shipnuck mentioned that Louis may have a sweeter swing than the renowned natural move of Rory McIlroy.

    "Unfortunately, he doesn't have Rory's desire," says Oosthuizen's swing coach, Pete Cowen. "If Louis wanted it a little more, he could easily be the best player in the game."

    If a player's own swing coach says that about them, that is a pretty strong deterrent from putting any stock in Oosthuizen putting together any sort of consistency week in and week out.

    He won the Maybank Malaysian Open the week after Augusta, but since then, Oosthuizen hasn't performed very well at all.

    The wild-card nature of Oosthuizen and his apparent lackluster work ethic makes him difficult to pin either way, but if I were a betting man, I'd take the under on his stock entering the Open.

Matt Kuchar

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    The consistency of Kuchar's game is staggering.

    It finally truly paid off in the form of a huge victory at the Players Championship this year, which is often considered golf's fifth major.

    Despite the very steady nature of Kuchar's results and demeanor, he has had only modest success in majors championships in his career to date.

    With top-10 finishes in every major but the Open, Kuchar still leaves something to be desired at this particular major. He has missed four of five cuts in his career, and his other result was a tie for 27th.

    Kuchar relies heavily on solid ball-striking and accuracy off the tee to keep him in the game. He has never been dubbed an imaginative short-game wizard, or a big-time clutch putter.

    Both of these skills are critical in succeeding on a links-style course such as Royal Lytham.

    Kuchar must hone and improve upon these aspects of his game before he can seriously threaten at the Open Championship.

Hunter Mahan

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    Mahan is one of the top five ball-strikers in the world and sits inside the Top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

    A two-time winner in 2012, Mahan seems ready to take the next step at a major championship. It just won't be at the 2012 Open.

    The links course of Royal Lytham should be a ball-striker's paradise, but Mahan hasn't fared very well in professional tournaments outside of the U.S.

    His best finish was a tie for sixth at Carnoustie in the 2007 event, but he has finished no better than a tie for 26th beyond that and has missed the cut three times in his past four Open appearances.

    Mahan is the hunter of flags at most tournaments, but this particular week he will be the hunted on a course that is bound to swallow up some of the game's elite players.

Sergio Garcia

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    Oh, Sergio. Despite a pseudo-legendary ability to drive the golf ball with length and precision, Garcia continues to disappoint fans and analysts alike.

    Once thought to be the eventual holder of many majors after a second place finish at the 1999 PGA Championship, Garcia is now 32 years old and has yet to win one.

    Sixteen top-10s in golf's four most important championships without a single victory has to be deflating, especially for a player who has received such hype since starting at the ripe age of 19.

    Sergio always seems to be hanging around and, honestly, it's impressive that he has stuck with golf this long considering his perceived negative attitude and constant failure to live up to lofty expectations.

    With no record to the contrary—and no wins in 2012 despite an exceptional year in putting—Garcia's major drought is bound to continue if he can't get his phenomenal ball-striking back to where it needs to be.

Bill Haas

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    The 2011 FedEx Cup winner has proven he can put together exceptional stretches of golf over his relatively young career, but has yet to even come close to contending at a major.

    Haas has never posted a top-10 at a major and has never managed better than a tie for 57th at the Open Championship.

    Although he didn't start playing majors consistently until 2010, Haas is a big name in golf that should still be considered a big liability at golf's biggest tournaments until his showings indicate otherwise.

    Despite a solid 2012 season that has included a win and over $2 million in prize money, Haas ranks an abysmal 156th in total putting on the PGA Tour.

    If the 30-year-old American expects to have any substantial major championship success in the future, he must cure his ills with the flat stick, above all else.

Nicolas Colsaerts

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    In a preview article where I named Colsaerts as a U.S. Open dark horse, I referred to him as the Belgian Bomber. NBC's Johnny Miller is a better man than I, dubbing the 29-year-old, "The Muscles from Brussels."

    Whatever creative nickname you come up with for him, Colsaerts put himself on a map at this year's U.S. Open.

    With a combination of booming drives and field-leading putting, he entered the final round just three shots off the lead.

    He faded to a tie for 27th, but Colsaerts justified his recent ascent to the top 40 in the world by contending in his only his third major championship appearance.

    With that said, it was clear that the Sunday pressure-cooker was too much for the long-hitting Colsaerts to handle.

    The winner of the Volvo World Match Play Championship, Colsaerts proved he can manage to hold his own when par is the objective.

    It remains to be seen whether the slight adjustments to Royal Lytham will make a significant difference to the usual double-digits-under-par scores posted by its previous Open champions.

    If it's a birdie binge in this year's Open, don't expect Colsaerts to hang around for too long.

    Even if stringing together pars is the prime objective, it appears the talented Colsaerts is still not quite seasoned enough to handle the atmosphere of the final day at a major.

Jason Day

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    After such a promising 2011 campaign, Day has suffered through an up-and-down 2012. What's encouraging is that when he plays well, he truly plays well.

    Day finished today's AT&T National tournament at Congressional in a tie for eighth place, which is his first top-10 result in nearly two months.

    The young Australian recorded runner-up finishes at last year's Masters and U.S. Open, and he also placed inside the top 10 at the 2010 PGA Championship.

    Similar success has not graced Day at the British Open, though.

    Although his ascent to stardom has been very recent, Day has nonetheless recorded a tie for 60th and a tie for 30th in his two Open appearances in 2010 and '11.

    While that trend would indicate he is due for another higher finish, especially based on his recent form, Day has been haunted by what has haunted other big names in golf this season.

    He ranks 96th in total putting on tour, and is 164th in greens in regulation at just 59 percent.

    While I would personally be thrilled with that number of greens hit every time I played, that is not ideal for a world class golfer.

    Day has posted four top-10s this year despite the ball-striking and putting woes, which means when he hits it poorly, he hits it really poorly.

    The inconsistency in Day's ball-striking this season shouldn't translate well to a course that will particularly emphasize ball control.

Vijay Singh

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    Another big name in golf. A former world No. 1 player. Winner of 22 PGA Tour events since turning 40 years old.

    Another big name in golf undone by the putting demons.

    Singh ranks 178th in total putting, which means if putting were the only basis for judging a PGA golfer, Singh would lose his tour card next year if the season were to end today.

    We've seen the standard putter. The left-hand low. The belly putter. The thick grip. The belly putter thick grip. The belly putter, left-hand low, thick grip.

    You get the picture. Basically, Singh is a headcase on the greens, and it's sort of fascinating to watch.

    It's sort of sad too, though, considering how obviously talented Singh is and how good he can be—the best in the world—when he's got everything firing on all cylinders.

    In his past five Opens, Singh hasn't fared better than a tie for 27th in 2007.

    Considering how awful his putting has been, in addition to a season that has yielded just one top-10 result, I don't see Singh faring very well at Royal Lytham barring a drastic improvement on the greens.

Adam Scott

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    With Steve Williams on the bag and a version of the trendy long putter, Scott has been somewhat rejuvenated after rough seasons in 2009 and 2010.

    After falling far from a career high No. 3 world ranking in 2008, Scott has worked his way back into the Top 10 at times and now sits at No. 17.

    The question is: When will the immensely talented Aussie break through at a major?

    Even with Williams yet to be on the bag, Scott finished tied for second at the 2011 Masters. He might have won if not for an insane birdie barrage by Charl Schwartzel coming in.

    Unfortunately, the Open Championship is the tournament where Scott has his worst major tournament results, posting only one Top 10 result with a tie for eighth in 2006 at Royal Liverpool.

    Scott's style of play simply doesn't fit an Open Championship venue.

    Unless Williams can provide some unprecedented, sage advice, having caddied for three-time champion Tiger Woods, expect another rough trek for Scott around an Open track.

Charl Schwartzel

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    Schwartzel won the 2011 Masters, but save for a subsequent tie for ninth at last year's U.S. Open at Congressional, he hasn't done much of anything throughout his career in major championships.

    The 27-year-old South African has missed four out of nine cuts at the Open Championship and has never finished better than a tie for 14th in 2010.

    With three top-five results worldwide in 2012, it would appear Schwartzel is having a measurably successful season.

    However, he has finished T50-T38 in the first two majors, and no better than a tie for 17th in any other event this season.

    All indications point to another underwhelming finish for Schwartzel at a major championship. I know he splits time between tours, but it's hard to find any redeemable stat for Schwartzel on the PGA Tour this season.

    He's also having his worst putting season on the European Tour since 2007.

Darren Clarke

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    The defending champion has ridden the wave of finally breaking through at a major for quite a while.

    A nagging groin injury has kept Clarke largely out of action in 2012, as he only recently made his first cut of the season at the Irish Open.

    Last year's win at Sandwich was the crowning moment of the 43-year-old's career. Due to the aforementioned injury, he skipped this year's U.S. Open to try to get himself healthy to mount a legitimate title defense.

    While it would be a great story to see Clarke contend again, given how talented of a player he is and the brilliant play he has flashed over the years, the lack of competitive rounds this year will probably prevent that from happening.

    Oh well.

    Mad respect to Clarke regardless, as we will likely never see another champion who rocks a pint of Guinness at the post-Open press conference.

Martin Kaymer

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    Kaymer was very much under the radar, at least in the U.S., until he won the 2010 PGA Championship.

    From there, he proceeded to lose his mind and win his next two starts overseas.

    After a stellar 2011 that included two more international victories, Kaymer has had a lackluster 2012 season.

    He has only had two top-10s worldwide and has failed to make any noise at majors since emerging victorious at Whistling Straits.

    Since winning the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award in 2007 on the European Tour, Kaymer hasn't suffered through a worse year as a pro than 2012 to date.

    The 27-year-old German is still sitting pretty at No. 15 in the world, with plenty of golf in front of him. Until he gets out of the funk he's currently in, though, it's hard to count him as a surefire contender in a major.

Miguel Angel Jimenez

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    With only two top-10 finishes on the European Tour and a slew of disappointing finishes, the bad year so far for the loveable 49-year-old Spaniard doesn't show signs of improving.

    The only possible silver lining is that Jimenez finished in a tie for third the last time the Open Championship was held at Royal Lytham. It was by far his best finish of his career at the Open.

    Entering the final round, Jimenez was only one behind the 54-hole lead held by eventual champion David Duval.

    That is probably the only source of optimism Jimenez can draw on at this point.

    While there are few golfers more deserving of adding a major championship to their career accolades, Jimenez, unfortunately, doesn't seem to have the game to do it right now.

    "The Mechanic" will have plenty of fine-tuning to do if he hopes to make the cut at this year's Open, and here's to hoping that he at least does that much.

Retief Goosen

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    The Goose hasn't won a tournament since the Transitions Championship back in 2009.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ had a solid showing at Olympic Club, registering his first top-10 in a major since a sixth place effort at the 2010 British Open.

    Unfortunately for Goosen, he has struggled with back problems for much of the past couple of years and isn't getting any younger at age 43.

    Goosen, though, has six top-10 finishes at the Open Championship and could easily be a five-time major champion at this point in his career.

    The last time the Open was held at Royal Lytham, Goosen finished in a tie for 13th. While this isn't a bad result, Goosen is not the consistent player he used to be back then.

    After the promising finish at the U.S. Open, Goosen missed the cut at the BMW International Open.

    Goosen is simply too inconsistent to be relied upon in a major championship and hasn't had much recent success. Despite his talent, his age and injuries will likely be his undoing at the Open.

Nick Watney

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    The Butch Harmon pupil has fluttered inside the Top 10 of the world golf rankings and been considered one of the top American golfers, but hasn't quite cut it in the majors.

    Watney is 32 years old and can't be considered a young gun anymore. The pressure is on as he enters the prime of his career. He has only been in position once to win a major championship, at the 2010 PGA.

    In a season where Watney has made 14-of-16 cuts and made nearly $1 million in prize money, check out how he stacks up on tour on some crucial stats. It helps explain why he hasn't accomplished much more in 2012:

    Round 3 Scoring Average: 71.77 (123rd)

    Final Round Scoring Average: 72.69 (155th)

    Scrambling: 55.30 percent (119th)

    Total putting: 236.8 (122nd)

    In fact, it's a wonder that Watney has been able to be even remotely productive this season given the poor performances in these perceptibly key areas.

    A tie for seventh finish in the 2010 Open was impressive, but Watney hasn't followed it up in any major with a result better than a tie for 12th at the 2011 PGA Championship.

    No numbers jump off the page in 2012 to make a case that Watney will succeed at Royal Lytham.

Geoff Ogilvy

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    If you watched the U.S. Open this year, Ogilvy's Peter Sellers-esque mustache was not a good look, and his game has been equally unattractive in recent years.

    Ogilvy's last victory was at the Australian Open in 2010...not the tennis Grand Slam.

    He hasn't been able to find his winning form that won him multiple World Golf Championship events after his breakthrough victory at the 2006 U.S. Open.

    Let's just say the British Open hasn't been kind to Ogilvy.

    He's still a big name in golf because he's won some big tournaments and is a major champion.

    Besides the lackluster past couple years he's had, here's a pretty convincing case against Ogilvy: He has missed the past five cuts at the Open Championship.

    Is he due to buck the trend?

    If Ogilvy's golf game continues to parallel the prestige of his facial hair, then the answer would most probably be no.