British Open 2012: Bold Predictions for Tournament at Royal Lytham

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIJuly 16, 2012

British Open 2012: Bold Predictions for Tournament at Royal Lytham

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    The British Open has a tendency to yield unheralded champions, probably more so than any other major championship.

    2012 will be an exception to that occurrence.

    As Bill Pennington of the New York Times found, every winner at Royal Lytham has been ranked No. 1 in the world at one time or another since the rankings were established.

    1976 champion Johnny Miller also pointed out the trend of top players claiming victory at this particular Open site.

    Come Sunday, the champion should be one who has occupied the top spot in the world at some point.

    These distinguished, top-ranked individuals include Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Vijay Singh, David Duval, Ernie Els and current top gun Luke Donald.

    Find out which one of these players will come out on top in this bold set of 2012 Open Championship predictions.

The 3 Most Recent Champions Will Miss the Cut

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    Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink and Darren Clarke are all enduring serious struggles entering the Open.

    The South African Oosthuizen comes into the Open with four missed cuts in his past seven starts, and no finish better than a tie for 19th at the PGA Tour's Crowne Plaza Invitational.

    Cink can't seem to find his game in 2012, and has failed to register a top 10 on tour. His world ranking has taken a nose dive all the way to 183rd.

    Clarke is the defending champion, but a nagging groin injury has kept him down and out this season. He has missed seven of 12 cuts and only has two top 25s to his credit.

    It's hard to believe the past three champions are in such bad shape, but there isn't much evidence suggesting any of them will be around this weekend.

Andres Romero Will Come out of Nowhere...Again

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    A tie for second at the Memorial Tournament put Romero back on the map this season.

    This will be the first Open for the explosive Argentine since 2009, so he is definitely flying under the radar.

    Romero may not enter this week in outstanding form having missed two straight cuts.

    However, the only poor finish he's had at this major was a tie for 32nd in 2008, when only four players fared better than 10-over par.

    Otherwise, Romero's track record at the Open is quite successful, including a near win at Carnoustie in 2007.

    This is another extremely tough golf course, but Romero has shown the ability to tear up courses with teeth.

    His tie for third back in '07 included an 10-birdie effort in the final round to miss out on a playoff by one stroke.

    Don't be surprised if Romero shocks the world again and makes a charge on Sunday.

John Huh Will Shine in Major Debut

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    A certain 23-year-old on this side of the Atlantic seems to be getting all the love on the PGA Tour. He has long hair, Puma clothes, and undeniable swag.

    Rickie Fowler may be the most talked about American youngster, but John Huh should be more prominently mentioned in discussions about golf's young guns.

    One year Fowler's junior, Huh has won as a rookie on the PGA Tour this season, and looks to be the runaway choice to win Rookie of the Year honors.

    A strong finish at the British Open would even catapult Huh toward potentially securing a spot on the USA Ryder Cup team. Whether that's in his plans or not is unclear.

    The point is, Huh has been among the bigger surprises on tour this season, and his game is a nice fit for this specific major.

    None of his stats look supremely impressive, but Huh has managed to slip inside the top 25 in scoring average. His exceptional seventh-best driving accuracy will also serve him well at Royal Lytham.

    Huh's flatstick might be his biggest asset, though, as he ranks 19th in total putting.

    Hitting fairways and draining putts sounds like a recipe for success, and that formula should translate to a top 10 in Huh's first major appearance.

Bubba Watson Will Miss the Cut

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    Arguably the most creative player in golf, Watson's game should suit links golf and the British Open.

    His track record, though, indicates otherwise. He has two missed cuts and a tie for 30th last year in three career appearances.

    Watson has shown a reluctance to adjust his game to links golf to this point. Heck, he's shown a reluctance to adjust his game in general.

    That was evident at this year's U.S. Open, where he missed the cut.

    With a new baby in his life and lack of competitive play as of late, Watson still has to be on cloud nine after an emotional Masters victory in April.

    It takes a hard-headed person with a little bit of naivety and a lot of confidence to teach himself the game of golf, but "Bubba Golf" has worked well for Bubba Watson.

    Maybe he'll figure out how to tailor his game next year when he's a little more sharp and has a little more experience on this style of golf course.

    Even though his most recent result is a tie for second at the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship, that was about a month ago.

    It's unlikely he'll be able to come back after such an extended hiatus and stand up to the intensity of a major tournament.

    But hey, it's Bubba, so it's sure to be very interesting if nothing else.

Tiger Woods Will Finish in the Top 5

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    Tiger's recent record at majors is not impressive. It's certainly a far cry from his usual prowess.

    With that said, he's about due for a breakout performance and should find a way to put four good rounds together this week.

    An uncharacteristic missed cut at The Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago is a little alarming, but Tiger does have the most wins on the PGA Tour this season. He is also atop the FedEx Cup standings.

    The only aspect missing from an otherwise very successful 2012 for Tiger is a major.

    I don't think this week is Tiger's best chance to win a major in the near future, considering he finished tied for 25th in 2001 at Royal Lytham.

    As noted in the introduction, though, this Open venue tends to produce a champion from the cream of the golfing crop.

    Without a positive result since his 2006 victory—his first major win since the death of his father, Earl—Tiger is due to threaten at golf's oldest championship.

5 Other Dark Horses to Watch

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    Ian Poulter: A tie for fourth at the ALSTOM Open de France two weeks ago gives the already confident Poulter positive momentum entering the week.

    The former No. 5 ranked player in the world is known for his ability to rise to the occasion when the competition is stiffest.

    The field in France was certainly stacked with elite players.

    If the putter is kind, the audacious Englishman could be in for an overdue first major title.

     

    Ryo Ishikawa (above): Another exceptional youngster, Ishikawa has failed to make too many waves on the PGA Tour.

    However, he just finished in a tie for third in Japan, shooting a pair of 66s in his final two rounds.

    A player of Ishikawa's caliber can't perform poorly in golf's biggest tournaments forever. Expect him to bounce back after missed cuts at the year's first two majors.

     

    Raphael Jacquelin: Very much under the radar as the 107th ranked player in the world, Jacquelin has had some encouraging results as of late.

    The aforementioned ALSTOM Open produced a stellar third-place effort. Most recently, Jacquelin finished in a respectable tie for 16th at the Scottish Open.

    These are the best two tournaments he has put together all season.

    Last year, Jacquelin registered an eighth place finish at the Open Championship in Sandwich. Only champion Darren Clarke had a better final three rounds than Jacquelin.

     

    Marcel Siem: I suppose I'm putting a lot of stock in that European event in France, but Siem was the winner there.

    Although he is not very accurate with the driver, Siem is having a career year in greens in regulation percentage, putting, and scoring average.

    His win in France was especially impressive coming off a blown chance to win the BMW International Open in his native Germany and finishing 57th at the Irish Open thereafter.

    Siem is an emotional player. If he gets off to a good start and has an optimistic frame of mind, he could be dangerous.

     

    Jeev Milkha Singh: Once ranked 29th in the world near the beginning of 2009, Singh explained his recent health battles after winning the Scottish Open this past Sunday (via daijiworld.com):

    It has been really tough and frustrating more than anything else. You feel like your game is coming back and another injury creeps up, but I just stuck myself in there and said that you need to work on the physical side, and I worked hard on that.

    The increased attention to fitness paid off. Singh's first win in four years got him into the British Open field for just the second time in his career.

    Singh should benefit from valuable, well-played reps on a links style course and have a stellar showing at Royal Lytham.

Rory McIlroy Will Win

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    I made the case for McIlroy to win earlier today, and it wouldn't make sense for me to pick another way now.

    The demeanor and attitude McIlroy has seems more ideal than it was last year at this time, that's for sure.

    At Royal St. George's, McIlroy riled up the European media by stating his clear preference for American courses since they suited his game better.

    McIlroy even said that there was no reason to adjust his game for one week out of the year, and that he would just wait until the weather was nice to capture a Claret Jug.

    This was documented in a Telegraph opinion piece by Kevin Mitchell.

    As McIlroy continues to mature, his game will only become more polished and his perspective should only improve.

    It seems like that enhanced perspective is already taking shape.

    In a story by the Sunday Express, McIlroy was his usual candid self. He didn't back down from the perhaps immature criticisms he voiced a year ago.

    Definitely in the past, if things haven’t gone my way, the fight goes out of me pretty quickly, and that’s something I’m working on and something that I’m trying to get better at.

    Only 23-years-old, McIlroy has so much major experience under his belt already. He could have won three or four majors by now.

    An attitude adjustment may be just what he needs to capture his second major championship, and it would more than redeem his disappointing showing on and off the course in 2011.