2012 Open Championship: How Golf Games of the Top 25 Match Up with the Course

Ron JuckettContributor IIIJuly 9, 2012

2012 Open Championship: How Golf Games of the Top 25 Match Up with the Course

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    Royal Lytham and St. Annes, home of the Open Championship from July 19th through the 22nd, will be a similar test to what golfers saw a few weeks ago at Olympic Club for the US Open.

    When the world’s best tee it up, they will see a rather short course that puts a distinct premium on keeping the ball in play and hitting greens from the fairways. At under 7100 yards, this is not a course that really can be overpowered.

    The winner here will have to not only really think their way around the course, but also play well in windy conditions and keep shots out of Open Champion golf’s nastiest surprise—those pot bunkers.

    Playing this time at just a par-70—one shot less than what 2001 champion David Duval and others had when the Open played here last—the course really puts a premium on making pars on the par-four holes. With just two par-fives and four par-threes, golfers will have to be very careful on when to try and press to score and when to walk away with a two-putt par.

    Duval’s winning score would still be a good one this year at six-under for the week. Birdies can be had if the course is played smart.

    Here is a look at how the top 25 in the world, in order according to the Official World Golf Rankings as of Sunday morning July 8th, 2012, stack up against the course. 

    Grades are on a 1 to 10 scale, 10 being perfect.

    All stats are from either the PGA Tour or European PGA Tour websites. 

26. Peter Hanson

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    With Webb Simpson out, Hanson becomes the 25th best player in the field.

    Grade: 4

    Hanson has not been all that accurate this year off the tee or reaching the greens.

    His bunker play is also below-average on the European Tour, only saving par around half the time.

    His putting, however, is top notch. If he can get it on the green, he will not beat himself. His track record is not great at the Open Championship, but he played very well this year on the desert swing of the European Tour.

25. Bill Haas

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    Grade: 2

    Despite winning the FedEx Cup last season and the Tour Championship, Haas has yet to show he has the extra special ability to play major championship golf.

    Really good at playing par-fours and good at scrambling, Haas is almost a prototypical average golfer. There is nothing he really excels at nor is there a part of his game that is truly weak.

    A shorter course should play well into his game but his distance control is not really remarkable. Until he can give himself real birdie chances, the links game is different enough that his lack of comfort will hurt him.

24. Bo Van Pelt

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    Grade: 4

    Sand play and scrambling around the greens hold Van Pelt back in getting a better grade.

    A superb putter and reasonably accurate in reaching greens, Van Pelt can do well if he puts the ball on the green.

    Van Pelt does not have an established history at the Open Championship, but does have a top 30 on his resume. His putting skills are a huge advantage, but he has to take the good experience he had at Augusta and learn from it here.

23. Keegan Bradley

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    Grade: Incomplete

    Bradley had never played a competitive pro round on a links course until he played Royal Portrush two weeks ago.

    While he is the only player to actually average under par on par-threes—2.99—his iron game can be a bit loose and his length is not the advantage it can be elsewhere.

    It seems like his game would fit Royal Lytham very well but until he tees it up to practice and sees that it really is different than what he has seen over here, it really is unfair to give him a firm grade. A six would be a good estimate.

22. Sergio Garcia

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    Grade: 3

    While getting a top 10 the last time the Open Championship was here in 2001, the joy and creativity has virtually disappeared from Garcia’s game.

    Garcia has lost his ability to scramble from around the green and is only average in scoring on par-threes and fours.

    Very good with shorter irons and wedges, he has played well here before. The question is can he put four good rounds together to reignite him.

21. Jason Day

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    Grade: 4

    While Day’s ability to bomb drives is not really as much of a factor here as it is at St. Andrews, his ability to scramble will be a great benefit on this links course. Also Day is good on the par-three’s, playing them at a pretty good 3.04 per hole.

    The big problem for Day this year is that he has not been accurate either off the tee or reaching the green. When you only hit half the fairways, the mental fatigue from trying to save par all the time will wear on the best players.

    Day has made the cut at both the Open Championships he has played in, but has never played competitively here.

20. Louis Oosthuizen

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    Grade: 4

    The 2010 Open Champion is still recovering from his near miss this year at The Masters.

    When he can find the fairway, he is very good at getting on the greens. The problem is getting him to actually find the fairway. Oosthuizen is also very good with his long-irons and from putting short-length putts.

    His scrambling ability, on the other hand, is below average on the Tour and that lack of creativity does not fit into success at this kind of course.

19. Rickie Fowler

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    Grade: 6

    Fowler has played in two Open Championships and has finished in the top 20 both times.

    His whole game has come together this year and trying to judge just how his game fits is tough as it has evolved so much in the last 12 months. He is not, however, very good scoring on par-fours, ranking near the bottom.

    He is accurate off the tee and is great with a wedge in his hand. While his sand game is only okay, he is seventh on the Tour this year in finding greens from a fairway bunker. His style fit well at Olympic Club and Royal Lytham should be no different.

18. Charl Schwartzel

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    Grade: 6

    Schwartzel does not seem to be intimidated playing on the world’s best courses.

    Accurate off both the tee and the fairway, Charl’s biggest problem this year has been his putter, averaging 1.78 putts per green. His bunker play has been okay as well, but not great.

    He has had two consecutive good finishes at the Open Championship and played fairly well at Olympic Club.

17. Zach Johnson

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    Grade: 8

    Johnson is another golfer that should do well on a shorter course that favors accuracy over power.

    Zach won at Colonial this year and finished second at Harbour Town, two courses that are shorter and can feature wind. He also played very well for three days at Olympic Club, but shot a 77 to start the Open to wipe him out.

    If there is a course in the Open Championship rotation that fits his game, it is this one. 

16. Dustin Johnson

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    Grade: 3

    Johnson’s lack of accuracy off the tee and poor performance on par-threes this year just does not bode well for a course that starts with a par-three and has three of them on the front side.

    He does alright out of the sand and does a decent job if missing the green, but his iron play has not been sharp this year and his putting is nothing really to write home about either.

    He has battled injuries most of the year, but he has had solid finishes the last two years on links courses.

15. Phil Mickelson

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    Grade: 6

    Mickelson is so creative in forming shots out of nowhere that you would think that he would have won an Open Championship or two by now.

    Where Royal Lytham works against him, however, is the fact it plays to a par-70 this year. Phil’s great strength comes from scoring on the par-fives. Sadly for him and his fans, there are only two on the course.

    He finished in a tie for 30th here in 2001 at one-over, but he was 10-under on the three par-fives for the week.

    He scrambles better than anybody. The last three tougher courses he has played—Sawgrass, Murifield Village and Olympic Club—saw him hit just over 20 percent of the fairways.

14. Martin Kaymer

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    Grade: 8

    Kaymer's lone major win so far came at the links-style clone Whistling Straights.

    The 2010 PGA champion is just a steady golfer that fits well into this kind of golf. While his iron play is not as sharp this year as in the past, his putting remains strong.

    If he can be creative enough around the greens, Kaymer can put behind the unexpected run of average play he has been on all year. He just needs to be more accurate off the tee.

13. Steve Stricker

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    Grade:  7

    Stricker made the cut here in 2001—good enough for a tie for 42nd. His win this year came at the always breezy Kapalua in Hawaii and played four steady rounds at Olympic Club.

    For as vanilla as Stricker’s game really can be, his game should fit the place well. Sand play can be tricky for him, but he is 11th on tour in scrambling when missing a green.

    Stricker will benefit from the course being short, steady play over the years at the Open Championship and being creative around the greens. He just has to avoid the sand.

12. Adam Scott

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    Grade: 6

    While good at reaching greens, Scott is not all that accurate off the tee and not great at all out of the sand.

    He did make the cut here back in 2001, tying for 47th, and tied for 15th at Olympic Club despite only hitting just 41 percent of the fairways.

    He has a top 10 at an Open Championship back in 2006 and can play links golf. His demeanor works for him at majors, but really has to keep the ball in play better.

11. Graeme McDowell

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    Grade: 8

    His home course is the famed links course Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. If there is anyone that is comfortable in playing the style of golf needed to win, it is McDowell.

    While amazingly accurate off the tee, his bunker play is among the worst on the Tour—ranking 177th in sand saves.

    He tied for second at Olympic Club. He can do it here, but he has to keep it out of the bunkers. 

10. Hunter Mahan

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    Grade: 7

    A mixed record of cuts missed and mid-level finishes knock Hunter down a bit.

    Steady and accurate, his bunker play is not really all that good this year. While his mid-iron game will work here, his short game is not razor sharp. If he misses the green, he is only 82nd on Tour in making par.

    He will need to trust his game to adjust well here. He plays well in colder environments and on scruffy desert courses.

9. Justin Rose

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    Grade: 9

    From tee-to-green, Justin Rose’s game matches Royal Lytham. His putting though is a different story.

    Rose is accurate from the tee and fairway. He can score on the non-par-fives, and is a very good bunker player. Yet, he is out of the top 100 in making putts from three to 25 feet this year.

    He made the cut at Royal Lytham’s last Open, tying for 30th. If he keeps his confidence, this is a good course for him. 

8. Jason Dufner

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    Grade: 6

    A steady player having a great season, Dufner seems to be the kind of player that would do well on this setup. Yet, he has never made a cut at the Open Championship.

    While trying to go on history to judge potential value with Dufner is tough, if he can be comfortable with the conditions that come with Open Championship golf then Royal Lytham could be a real good course for him.

    Dufner will never wow you with his game, but golf is the ultimate tortoise versus the hare game. He plays a precision game and this is a precision course.

7. Matt Kuchar

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    Grade: 8

    Like Justin Rose, this course should fit his game really well.

    Kuchar is accurate off the tee and with irons. He is good out of the sand and is good around the greens.

    His links play, however, is not good. He has only made one cut the last few years at the Open Championship and did not play here in 2001. His comfort level with links golf downgrades him a bit.

6. Bubba Watson

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    Grade: 4

    Bubba Golf just is not going to work here.

    His length has been taken away by the course playing so short. The par-fives he uses to score on are just not here and his bunker game is not all that great.

    Having said all that, he is such a short game wizard that his creativity could really help him around the greens. He is not good on par-threes and needs to putt better.

5. Webb Simpson

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    Grade: 10

    Simpson is missing the Open Championship due to the fact his wife is actually due that week.

    He won the Open this year on a similar course at Olympic Club. He would have been a favorite coming in based just on that.

4. Tiger Woods

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    Grade: 7.5

    A master of links golf, the three-time Open Champion finished in a tie for 25th the last time it was played here in 2001.

    Where he gets dinged is his bunker play. Only 103rd in sand saves, he must avoid them to stay in contention.

    Things seem to be clicking for Tiger in all aspects of his game. We know he can literally adjust on the fly if required. Sand play and short-iron distance are a bit off right now, but nothing he should face here should phase him.

3. Lee Westwood

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    Grade: 10

    With a solid iron game and ability to get up and down from the bunker, this is really the ideal setup for Westwood to break through.

    Lee is seventh in par-three scoring and 11th on par-fours this year on the PGA Tour—required good elements for scoring on a course that features only two par-fives.

    He did make the cut here in 2001, tying for 47th, and has been excellent out of the rough this year.

2. Rory McIlroy

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    Grade: 3

    Rory is not accurate off the tee and is just mediocre reaching greens in regulation.

    On the other hand, he is very efficient using his long-irons and on long putts. He is also 18th on the PGA Tour in par-three and par-four scoring.

    If McIlroy thinks his way around here, then he can make the course work for him. While very good in reaching greens from the rough, Rory’s sand and short game are not his friends here.

1. Luke Donald

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    Grade: 9

    He really had a great chance in San Francisco going in to the US Open before playing a horrible first round and ending up with a missed cut.

    His lack of length is not a handicap here and is a very good player getting up and down out of bunkers. His putting is very good and is 15th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy.

    While he did not play in the 2001 Open Championship here, this course really should favor Donald’s strengths.