Early Storylines Emerging Around the Top Stars Ahead of the 2013 British Open
One of golf's most treasured tournaments returns this month when the 142nd edition of the Open Championship takes center stage at Muirfield in Scotland. The British Open presents a chance for the game's greatest players to gain respect, glory and a hefty payday.
A collection of superstars are set to compete, each looking to add to a British Open legacy that stretches back to 1860. These premier players each take a different path into the celebrated 72-hole tournament, which promises to challenge even top-tier competitors.
Here's a peek at storylines to keep an eye on as the showdown for the Claret Jug draws near.
Ernie Els Seeks to Duplicate 2012 Success
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Ernie Els stunned the gallery at Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club last summer when he came away with the Claret Jug 10 years after winning his first Open Championship at Muirfield.
The 42-year-old became the beneficiary of an epic collapse by Adam Scott, who led the South African by six strokes entering Day 4 of the tournament.
The victory put Els in rare company, among just eight golfers to claim a major title in three different decades. Now 43, the veteran enters competition playing quite well.
Els finished tied for fourth place at the U.S. Open and followed with a first-place finish at the BMW International Open. Those performances vaulted him to his highest world ranking (13th) since April 2011.
"I'm a very young 43-year-old. There's not a younger 43-year-old, I promise," Els told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) after his victory at the BMW International, his 28th European Tour title.
Els looks to tap the fountain of youth yet again in pursuit of back-to-back British Open wins.
Rory McIlroy Searching for His Swagger
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Rory McIlroy began the year ranked No. 1 in the world. He claimed five tournament titles during a dominant 2012 run.
Through 27 weeks of 2013 competition, McIlroy has managed just one top-five finish (a second-place performance at the Valero Texas Open). More importantly, he's relinquished the title of the globe's top-ranked golfer to Tiger Woods.
McIlroy finished 25th and 41st at the Masters and U.S. Open, respectively.
“I feel a bit lost right now,” he told Golfweek reporter Alistair Tait in late June at the Irish Open, where he missed the cut.
Driving accuracy is a key concern for the 24-year-old. McIlroy is currently ranked 93rd among PGA golfers in that department.
His elite driving ability helped vault him to major titles, lucrative endorsements and global fame. It's imperative that McIlroy regains momentum if he hopes to hang around near the top of the leaderboard at Muirfield.
Tiger Woods Targets 4th British Open Victory
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Back in his familiar position of first place in the world rankings, Tiger Woods is primed for a title run at the Open Championship. He finished tied for third at the tournament in 2012, falling shy of his fourth Claret Jug since 2000.
Woods, who won consecutive British Open titles in 2005 and 2006, has seen mixed results at recent majors. After finishing fourth at the 2013 Masters, he tied for 32nd at the U.S. Open.
He already owns four tournament titles this year.
The superstar still hasn't won a major title since 2008. A victory at Muirfield would essentially cap Woods' "comeback" from the most controversial and frustrating stretch of his legendary career.
It would also give Woods a fourth British Open win, matching his career victory totals in Masters and PGA Championship play.
Justin Rose Ready for Encore After U.S. Open Win
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Justin Rose jumped to third in the world with a two-stroke victory over Jason Day and Phil Mickelson at the 2013 U.S. Open. Now he has a chance to announce himself as one the globe's hottest players.
Rose has never finished better than fourth at the Open Championship. His career-best performance put him on the map when, as an 18-year-old amateur, he drilled a dramatic shot on the final hole of the tournament.
Fresh off his first major championship, Rose must contend with the pressures of having a bull's-eye on his back. The Englishman calls London home and will also deal with the stresses of representing the host nation.
Rose currently holds the second-lowest scoring average in the PGA (69.158). His year features five top-eight tournament finishes.
Rose arrives in Muirfield on fire. Can he keep it up with the spotlight shining brighter than ever?
Will Phil Mickelson Keep Things Old School at British Open?
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Phil Mickelson has long been categorized as a mercurial golfing talent. Lefty lived up to the reputation again at the U.S. Open.
A final-round 74 doomed Mickelson and allowed eventual champion Justin Rose to leapfrog him atop the leaderboard. It's not the first time we've seen the four-time major champ lay an egg on the game's greatest stage.
Mickelson is now 43 and certainly entering the final stages of his prime, if he hasn't already passed it. However, older players have thrived at the British Open recently.
2012 champion Ernie Els and 2011 winner Darren Clarke were each 42 at the time of their victories.
Mickelson missed the cut at the 2012 Open Championship, one year after a career-best second-place finish. He finished tied for 66th at Muirfield in 2002.
The British Open title has always been an elusive goal for Lefty, and he's running out of chances to claim the Claret Jug.
Adam Scott Aims to Exorcise Demons After 2012 Collapse
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Adam Scott finished the 2012 Open Championship front and center for all the wrong reasons. The Australian collapsed on the final stretch of Sunday's action, opening the door for Ernie Els to steal a title.
He bogeyed the final four holes of the tournament, spoiling an otherwise sensational performance. A three-putt bogey on 16 particularly stung.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Scott is only the second player in Open Championship history to blow an advantage of at least four strokes after 54 holes of the tournament. The embarrassing ending had many wondering how he would recover.
"I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes," Scott told ESPN.com in the aftermath. "Look, I played so beautifully for most of the week. I shouldn't let this bring me down."
Scott showed no lingering effects at the 2013 Masters, where he claimed his first major title. He accomplished the feat under tremendous pressure, topping Angel Cabrera on a second extra hole after the two finished tied through four rounds of action.
That win certainly alleviated much of the ill feeling caused by Scott's sensational stumble at the 2012 British Open. After cementing himself in Open Championship lore for his failure, Scott is presented with an opportunity to flip the script this time around.