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British Open 2013: Top Young Stars to Watch at Muirfield

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British Open 2013: Top Young Stars to Watch at Muirfield
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The 2013 British Open at Muirfield is quickly approaching, and several young stars should be significant factors in golf's third major of the season.

Whether it's past impressive finishes, recent form or simply how their respective games translate to the style of golf to be played in Gullane, Scotland, some of the game's premier modern prodigies have a chance to thrive and perhaps capture a first major championship.

Let's take a closer look at the impressive quartet who have a chance to make some noise—and perhaps mount a serious run at the Claret Jug.

Note: Prior Open Championship history was obtained from the official website.

 

Rickie Fowler

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So much promise, but only one win. That's the knock on Fowler, but his improved putting this season and piercing ball flight are ideally suited to make a run at Muirfield.

Fowler takes flack for not raising more trophies, but he's still the 30th-ranked player in the world and consistently puts himself into position to succeed.

One of the best elements of Fowler's makeup is his even-keeled demeanor on the course. No matter what type of shot he hits or how he's playing that particular day, you can never tell with Fowler because of his uncommonly cool temperament. There is a tendency for him to make big numbers, but he's among the best at bouncing back from that type of adversity.

Video Credit: PGATour.com

Par should be the main objective if conditions take a turn at the British Open, though, and that's actually a positive for Fowler.

Aggressiveness is certainly not an attribute Fowler lacks, and it's part of the reason why he hasn't been a more consistent winner.

However, he just notched a top 10 at the U.S. Open, and his best finish in a major was the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George's, where he managed a two-under 68 in the most difficult of conditions. He wound up tied for fifth with a total of even par, and he endured the wrath of Mother Nature exceptionally.

The form the 24-year-old has displayed lately has been solid enough to make him a legitimate contender for his maiden major title.

 

Matteo Manassero

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At the ripe age of 16, the precocious Italian became the youngest British Amateur champion in history, which got him an invitation to that year's British Open at Turnberry.

Manassero played alongside former British Amateur winner Sergio Garcia and the legendary Tom Watson for the first two days and didn't flinch. He won low amateur honors for the week and tied for 13th when all was said and done (h/t PGA.com).

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Unlike many before Manassero who have flamed out, he went on to win the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award on the European Tour in 2010, and he has claimed a victory in each of his first four seasons as a professional.

Showing the fortitude to get it done down the stretch at such an early juncture in his career bodes well for Manassero's prospects to become the next European superstar.

He may not be a household name just yet, but his No. 26 world ranking is ahead of the likes of Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Paul Lawrie and Angel Cabrera—all major winners.

Some may argue he has already arrived, but the reality is that Manassero is just beginning to tap into his potential. Many wins likely lie ahead.

The sensational short game Manassero sports is rare for a 20-year-old, and it should help him immensely in his bid to contend in the Open Championship—regardless of how his Scottish Open tuneup plays out this week.

 

Thorbjorn Olesen

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It's a shame Olesen hadn't seen Augusta National before teeing it up at The Masters back in April. Had he been a bit more familiar with the pristine venue, he very well might have slipped on the green jacket.

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Olesen shot an opening-round 78 but played the final 54 holes in 10 under par (h/t Masters.com). To put that into perspective, eventual winner Adam Scott and Angel Caberera made the playoff with totals of minus nine.

There's more reason to believe Olesen could thrive at the Open Championship, too, because that's when he initially burst onto the scene.

It was clear the Dane didn't fear the big stage then, as he shared the spotlight with Tiger Woods in 2012's third round and held his own in shooting 71 to Woods' 70.

After six missed cuts in seven previous starts, it seems Olesen is locked back in ahead of the impending major, as he's at five under through the first 24 holes at the European Tour's Scottish Open.

 

Chris Wood

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Although he's not frequently mentioned among some of the better 20-somethings, don't discount the towering 6'5" Wood.

As an amateur at Royal Birkdale in 2008, the showing Wood put on amidst some of the most ridiculously tough conditions in recent Open Championship history was impressive, to say the least.

The fact that 10 over was good enough for a tie for fifth shows how difficult it was to play—and a further testament to how good Padraig Harrington was to defend his title with a four-under showing on the back nine.

Such uncommon composure under immense pressure translated well for Wood the following year when he had turned pro.

On the final green on Sunday at Turnberry, Wood missed a relatively short putt for par (captured in the image below). Stewart Cink drained a birdie from 16 feet away to hold the clubhouse lead at two under, one shot better than the Englishman, and went on to beat Tom Watson in the playoff.

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

That's how close Wood has been to two Claret Jugs. Growing pains have ensued to an extent since then—as well as some nagging back problems he discussed in a recent blog post.

Even in spite of those setbacks, there's no denying Wood's moxie and ball-striking prowess. His gritty style surfaced again at the Volvo World Match Play Championship, where he finished tied for fifth.

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