British Open Golf 2013: Ranking the Top 10 Wild Cards at Muirfield
The 2013 British Open Championship presents an opportunity for any member of the field to rise up and claim a piece of golfing history.
In recent years, we've been reminded of the unpredictable nature of this tournament by surprise winners such as Ben Curtis, Paul Lawrie and Todd Hamilton to name a few.
Household names like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els start the event with spotlights shining on full blast. The cameras will catch their every move, from Thursday, July 18 through the end of the tournament on Sunday, July 21, as analysts break down their approach at each hole.
However, the majority of competitors at Muirfield will begin the British Open with significantly fewer eyes on them. That's not to say people aren't familiar with their golfing careers, just that most onlookers won't exactly be looking at them as front-runners for a title.
Despite a lack of overwhelming expectations, so often it's these golfers who eventually command attention on Sunday afternoon.
It's time to examine which wild-card golfers are primed for a potential run at the Claret Jug, providing they can put together a complete package and perform at Muirfield.
10. Nicolas Colsaerts
Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Nicolas Colsaerts has a one-sided golf game and a hit-or-miss track record on the course this season.
The Belgian bomber is the top-ranked PGA driver in terms of distance, but he has trouble finishing holes, ranking 177th on the Tour in picking up putting strokes.
A 10th-place finish at the U.S. Open plus another pair of top-10 performances (WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Zurich Classic of New Orleans) prove Colsaerts is highly capable of stringing together 72 holes of quality golf. However, his six missed cuts in 14 events are an alarming red flag.
In his last four major tournament tries, Colsaerts has two top-10 finishes (he tied for seventh at the 2012 British Open Championship) and two missed cuts.
9. Zach Johnson
Michael Cohen/Getty Images
Zach Johnson is an interesting underdog prospect because of his familiarity with the event.
The 37-year-old has survived the cut in six consecutive British Open appearances, cracking the top-20 on three occasions.
He ranks just 48th among the 2013 PGA Tour money leaders list, but a pair of top-three finishes are an impressive note. The veteran fell short of his 10th PGA title on July 14, losing a five-hole playoff showdown to 19-year-old Jordan Spieth at the John Deere Classic.
That brush with victory may serve as an added motivating factor for Johnson at Muirfield.
8. Jason Dufner
David Cannon/Getty Images
Jason Dufner, a 36-year-old with two career PGA titles, simply seems to have the makings of a one-hit wonder major champion.
He came painfully close to winning the 2011 PGA Championship before losing to Keegan Bradley in a playoff.
Dufner doesn't execute drives or putts at an elite level, but he's a dangerous underdog when he puts together a complete day. The 14-year Tour veteran shot a 67 in the final round of the 2013 U.S. Open to climb into a tie for fourth place.
However, he followed that performance with a letdown, missing out on the money at the Travelers Championship.
7. Bubba Watson
USA TODAY Sports
A few weeks removed from his best performance of the season, Bubba Watson looks to improve upon his first two four-round experiences at the British Open. The 2012 Masters champion missed the cut at the British Open in both 2009 and 2010 before improving in each of the past two tournaments at Muirfield.
Watson finished 30th in 2011 at the British Open and jumped up to 23rd last year. He played strong this June at the Travelers Championship, where a first-round 63 fueled his run to fourth place.
The Floridian is fifth on the PGA Tour in driving distance and sixth in hitting greens in regulation. Watson is a player who learns from his mistakes and he may be sharpening his game at the right time.
6. Webb Simpson
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Webb Simpson, the surprising 2012 U.S. Open champion comes into competition at Muirfield on a high note.
Simpson shot a 65 in Round 4 of the Travelers Championship to finish fifth, marking a season-high finish for him.
In his only appearance at the British Open, Simpson put together a solid weekend at the 2011 tournament when the 27-year-old tied for 16th.
Despite missing the cut at this year's Masters and Memorial, Simpson remains a threat to charge toward the top of the leaderboard if he manages to stay out of early trouble.
5. Rickie Fowler
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
People have talked about this young American's promise for years. Now 24 years old, Rickie Fowler may finally be ready to meet expectations on a consistent basis.
He has made the cut in 14 of 16 events this season, highlighted by an excellent showing at the U.S. Open. Fowler found his rhythm in the third round there, scoring a low round of 67 en route to a 10th-place tie.
He showed improved maturity by immediately following that effort with a strong showing at the Travelers Championship for 13th place. Two years ago, a less-seasoned Fowler finished tied for fifth at the British Open.
4. Sergio Garcia
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Few professional golfers have traveled a rockier road than Sergio Garcia. Once mired in an overwhelming funk, he has fought his way back to relevancy.
Garcia has logged top-10 finishes in four of his nine PGA events this season, regaining the skills that captivated fans during his younger years. Now 33, the Spanish star is embarking on the second stage of a career sprinkled with peaks and valleys.
He has flirted with the Claret Jug over several past summers, placing among the British Open Championship's top-10 finishers seven times since 2001. Statistically, he is now the game's top-ranked putter, and that's a pivotal asset when the pressure is turned up.
3. Billy Horschel
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Billy Horschel's breakout 2013 campaign continues into his first British Open Championship appearance.
The 27-year-old has been a revelation this season, finishing in the money in 17 of 18 PGA events. His seven top-10 finishes rank second on the Tour and include a fourth-place tie at the U.S. Open.
Horschel also earned his first professional win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
He is second among PGA players in birdie average. When he heats up, there's been little that has phased him in recent months.
2. Matt Kuchar
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Matt Kuchar is living a dream right now. The 35-year-old struggled mightily through a slump over the past decade to put his professional career at risk.
Now his world ranking has climbed higher than ever and he's spending his Sundays fighting for titles. Kuchar has made the cut in all 15 PGA events he has played this season, highlighted by six top-10 finishes and two titles at the Memorial and the WGC-Accenture.
He is exemplary at avoiding self-inflicted errors. If Kuchar can stay the course at Muirfield, there's no reason he can't challenge for his first major championship.
1. Graeme McDowell
JD Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Graeme McDowell is the definition of a "wild card". His 2013 performances have swung from phenomenal to pedestrian like a pendulum.
The golfer from Northen Ireland has been all over the place in his tournament results. He earned his first PGA title since 2010 at Heritage, but has missed four cuts in nine Tour starts.
McDowell's drastic momentum swings are almost laughable. In his past eight tournaments worldwide, including European Tour action, he owns three victories.
The other five endeavors ended in early exits.
It's anybody's guess how McDowell will perform this weekend. He finished tied for fifth at the 2012 British Open, establishing a new career-best for the event.