Tiger Woods will be trying to win his fourth Claret Jug
Who are the front-runners this weekend at the Open Championship?
Tiger Woods won the Open Championship in 2000, 2005 and 2006. He has 14 major championships overall and is trying to over take Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles.
However, Tiger will have some formidable competition when he tees it up at Royal Lytham and St. Annes on Thursday.
Here is a list of 11 other golfers that could prevent Tiger from winning his 15th major title.
Harrington has three major titles.
Padraig won the 2007 and the 2008 Open Championships. Since then he has tinkered with his swing and has not been a factor on any tour for the past few years.
Padraig has 14 European Tour wins and five PGA Tour wins to go with his two Opens and a PGA Championship.
He knows how to win big events on tough golf courses in less than perfect weather.
Even though his last win came at the 2008 PGA Championship, he seems to be getting his act together.
Two of his best finishes in 2012 came at the Masters (T-8) and at the U. S. Open (T-4).
Most recently he finished T-7 at the Irish Open, ahead of Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.
He has the perfect game for Royal Lytham, plus he has the experience.
Besides that, he is from Ireland. Everyone knows the guys from Ireland win everything.
GMac was runner-up at the U. S. Open
Graeme McDowell is yet another (Northern) Irishman with a major trophy on his mantle.
He won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and finished runner-up at the 2012 U.S. Open.
Graeme had a less-than-spectacular year in 2011 but has had a much better year in 2012.
He has only missed two cuts on the PGA Tour this year and finished runner-up at the U.S. Open and at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He also had a top-10 at the Honda Classic.
He was battling for the win at Olympic Club, but Webb Simpson slipped by him to collect the U.S. Open.
Graeme seems to have regained confidence in his driving and putting again. His iron play and short game are always solid.
He could find Royal Lytham just his cup o’ tea.
Hunter Mahan has two wins in 2012.
Hunter Mahan has been on a two-year run of excellent golf. He had two runner-up finishes and nine top-10s in 2011. He added two wins and two more top-10s in 2012.
Mahan, who drives the ball long and straight, is an adequate iron player and a very good putter.
If there is a weakness, it is his chipping, which may keep him from holding a Claret Jug this year
Rickie Fowler won at Wells Fargo
Rickie Fowler picked up his first PGA Tour win in 2012 at the Wells Fargo Championship and was runner-up the following week at the Players.
Quail Hollow and Sawgrass demand accurate iron play and superb short-game skills. These same skills are required at Royal Lytham.
In addition, Rickie can play well in less than desirable weather. He played college golf at Oklahoma State and was required to practice in every type of wind, cold and rain.
The elements always play a factor in an Open Championship.
Rickie was near the top of the 2011 Open Championship leaderboard and eventually finished T-5.
Will Royal Lytham provide Rickie’s first major championship victory?
Jim Furyk finished T-5 at the 2012 U. S. Open
Jim Furyk was just a snipe hook away from claiming the 2012 U.S. Open.
He suffered through one of his worst years in 2011, rededicated himself in the offseason and has regained his world-class form.
At 42 years old, he has four top-10s and nine top-25s this year.
Furyk is the ultimate grinder. He keeps his head down and just focuses on the shot at hand. He has all the shots required to win at a course like Royal Lytham.
A win at the Open Championship would certainly sign his ticket to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Steve Stricker has the game for Royal Lytham
Steve Stricker does not have a major championship title on his resume’.
He annually plays the week before the Open Championship at the John Deere Classic in Illinois, which could be a factor since it was hot and steamy in the Midwest.
He is an experienced performer and one of the world’s best from 150 yards in.
Royal Lytham demands exceptional iron play and a superb short game. Stricker possesses both.
His best finish at an Open Championship is a T-7 in 2008.
This could be one of the best venues for Stricker to get a major win. If he can survive the inclement weather and high winds, he may just get his first major title at Royal Lytham.
Luke Donald has been No. 1 for over 52 weeks
Luke Donald had one of the best years ever in 2011. He won four times around the world plus captured the money titles on both the European and PGA Tours.
He has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the world for the past 14 months.
Most golf fans and media will not give Donald the respect due him without a major title on his resume’.
Luke struggles finding fairways from the tee but is arguably the best iron player and has the best short game in the world right now.
Past champions at Royal Lytham Tony Jacklin and Seve Ballesteros were the same type of player as Luke Donald. Donald’s unflappable demeanor and classic style could be just the recipe to win his major and earn the respect he so deserves.
Lee Westwood is looking for his first major title
The 39-year-old Lee Westwood is ranked No. 3 on the OWGR and has won tournaments on every continent in the world but has never won a major.
He would love to get this major in his home country.
Westwood has been close on numerous occasions. He has had top-10 finishes in eight of his last 11 majors.
Lee has been a standout performer on seven European Ryder Cup teams, has 36 worldwide wins, won the European Tour’s Order of Merit twice and been named that tour’s Golfer of the Year three times.
He has done everything there is in golf except win a major. He is even moving to the United States and accepting membership to the PGA Tour.
His good friend Darren Clarke won the 2011 Open Championship at age 42 for his only major title.
Lee Westwood doesn’t want to wait much longer for his major, and he certainly doesn’t want to end up major-less.
Phil Mickelson won at Pebble Beach earlier this year.
The 42-year-old Phil Mickelson has four major championship victories and has been second another six times in majors, including a runner-up finish to Darren Clarke in the 2011 Open Championship.
He has had a very good 2012 with one win at Pebble Beach, a runner-up at Riviera, a T-4 at Augusta and two other top-10s.
Phil’s go-for-broke style doesn’t seem a good fit for Royal Lytham, but he is one of the premier iron players in the world and has one of the best short games of all time.
If he controls his ego just slightly and takes the percentage play rather than the exciting one for the four rounds, he could get his Claret Jug.
Whatever the case, Phil is always fun to watch if only to see what he will try next.
Rory McIlroy could get back on track at Royal Lytham
It’s hard to believe that Rory McIlroy is only 23 years old.
He has been on the world golf scene for several years and won on the PGA Tour before he was 21.
He even has been the No. 1 ranked player on the OWGR on and off this year.
He had two wins in 2011, including the U.S. Open at Congressional, seemed to finish top-10 in every event that he entered and ended the year runner-up to Luke Donald in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Rory has been in a bit of a slump over the past two months, missing three consecutive cuts.
He does, however, have a win at the Honda Classic and five top-10s on the PGA Tour in just nine starts in 2012.
Royal Lytham would give Rory a good chance to get back on form, collect his second major and reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Luke Donald.
Tiger Woods has three wins in 2012
Tiger Woods has won three times in 2012. All of his wins were on very good golf courses: Bay Hill, Muirfield Village and Congressional.
He also has a couple of missed cuts and 40th-place finishes in 2012.
It is great to see him back playing a semi-full schedule, but it is somewhat disheartening to watch the inconsistency of his play.
In the past, if Tiger was not at his best, he still finished top-five.
He was never a factor at the Masters. He played beautifully the first two rounds at Olympic Club in the U.S. Open only to fall apart on the weekend.
His main goal is to win majors. The Open Championship at Royal Lytham is certainly at the top of his wish list right now.
Methinks the wise man will not bet against him.