British Open 2013: Hottest, Coldest Golfers Heading into Year's Third Major
The 2013 British Open gets underway on Thursday, and while some of the best players in the world are completely on their respective games coming off of victories, others are not sporting such fine form.
Several of the game's premier young talents are rather streaky, and it's showing—in both positive and negative ways—ahead of the 142nd edition of golf's oldest major championship.
Tiger Woods still enters Muirfield Golf Links as the favorite despite not competing since the U.S. Open due to a strained elbow. The world No. 1 began the season winning four times before his recent funk, which was brought on by injury, so counting that against him would be unfair.
However, let's take a look at some of the other notable competitors who are hot and cold entering the year's third of four marquee events.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com and EuropeanTour.com. British Open information was obtained from the official website. Tournament history can be located at the Official World Golf Ranking.
Cold No. 3: Padraig Harrington
All that Harrington can really take solace in is the fact that every Open winner at Muirfield since 1929's Walter Hagen has gone on to win multiple major titles—or had won more than one before their respective victories.
Harrington was the last man to successfully defend the Claret Jug when he won back-to-back at the Open in 2007 and 2008. The Irishman then added a third major at the 2008 PGA Championship.
Since then, he hasn't won a tournament, and it's starting to become a bit concerning. Although marginally impressive results have occurred along the way, Harrington hasn't managed to win.
The recent form Harrington has been flashing has been discouraging to say the least. A final-round 80 at the Travelers Championship was nothing short of an epic implosion, and Harrington followed that up with two missed cuts across the pond.
Nothing is really going right for Harrington on the PGA Tour—he ranks 145th in driving accuracy, 177th in greens in regulation and 174th in total putting. He's really struggling with the short putts, too, which hasn't allowed him to string together many positive rounds.
Hot No. 3: Jordan Spieth
Since Spieth was simply living tournament to tournament on sponsor's exemptions and invitations, he had to make the most of his opportunities.
Has he ever.
The John Deere Classic was the latest of those chances, and the 19-year-old Spieth beat defending tournament champion Zach Johnson in a playoff to become the youngest winner on tour since 1931.
Spieth's game is so well-rounded for such a young age. Thus, he shouldn't be discounted at Muirfield despite his relative lack of experience.
The win last week was what qualified him for the Open Championship in the first place. It also made Spieth eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs, and thanks to five prior top-10 finishes, he's suddenly in 11th place in the points race.
That slot has him just ahead of Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Adam Scott in descending order—three of the previous seven major winners. It may not be Spieth's week in Gullane, Scotland, but he is a young player with a ton of confidence. If he's on, he could be dangerous.
Cold No. 2: Thorbjorn Olesen
A lot of young players will be getting hype this week, but one who is likely not to generate a lot of headlines despite his immense promise is Olesen.
If not for an opening-round 78 at The Masters, he might have been the next breakout prodigy, considering he played the final 54 holes in 10-under. Since that valiant joint sixth-place effort, though, the Dane has gone off the rails a bit.
Olesen has missed six of eight cuts since then, and finished in 67th place with a rough weekend at the Scottish Open.
There's no doubting how explosive Olesen can be when he is on, and he's actually become well-acquainted with the big stage at the Open before, playing the third round with Tiger Woods in 2012. That day, Woods shot a 70 to Olesen's 71, which showed the 23-year-old could handle the limelight.
A 74 to close pushed Olesen back to a respectable tie for ninth at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, but he showed he could at least sniff contention at a major.
Perhaps this setting is what the youngster needs to get himself back on track. Just don't take that assertion to the bank, because he's been untrustworthy on the course lately.
Hot No. 2: Graeme McDowell
One could argue that McDowell should fall into both hot and cold categories. His win at the Alstom Open de France marked McDowell's third victory in seven starts.
The other four results, though, were missed cuts, and before the first of his three wins in this recent run, he missed the cut at The Masters.
Thankfully, it seems McDowell is on the proper side of that wildly fluctuating play at the moment. It's a great sign that he is, too, because Muirfield plays right into all of McDowell's strengths.
Whether it be his elite driving accuracy, solid iron play, natural feel for shots around the green or his perpetually clutch putter, there aren't many demands McDowell's game can't meet to match up with Muirfield's formidable test.
At Royal Lytham in 2012, McDowell was alongside Adam Scott in the final group on Sunday but closed with a disappointing 75.
Between that and two missed cuts at this year's majors, the 2010 U.S. Open winner is due for a solid result this time around.
Cold No. 1: Rory McIlroy
Comparisons to Tiger Woods are mostly unfair to McIlroy, but one element to those analogies is legitimate: When McIlroy is at his best, he can pull miles ahead of the field at any time.
That's been the case in McIlroy's major victories at the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship, when he won each by eight strokes. McIlroy is a great front-runner, though he struggles to salvage potentially underwhelming rounds into decent ones.
At age 24, there is still so much time for McIlroy to work at his game and make adjustments accordingly. Having said that, he really needs to change his style to compete well at Muirfield.
The most recent results—T-57 at the Memorial, T-41 at the U.S. Open and a missed cut at the Irish Open—raise enough red flags as it is with regard to McIlroy's chances of threatening for the Claret Jug.
If his putting continues to suffer and his ball flight isn't tamed significantly to contrast the moon balls he's used to hitting, McIlroy will find the going tough in Gullane.
Even with the new Nike equipment and the weight of expectations, it's shocking that McIlroy hasn't won once in 2013. A breakthrough may be on the horizon at any moment, though, because McIlroy tends to bounce back from his periods of adversity with fervor.
Hot No. 1: Phil Mickelson
Like McIlroy, a win at the British Open would put Mickelson just one leg away from achieving the career Grand Slam.
That U.S. Open continues to elude Mickelson, as he recorded his record sixth runner-up finish at the tournament in Ardmore, Pa., last month. Prior to that, he had a joint second-place finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Instead of sulking in the aftermath of his latest U.S. Open disappointment, Lefty took to preparing for the next major test. After a missed cut at the Greenbrier Classic—a course that simply doesn't suit him—Mickelson won last week's Scottish Open in Inverness.
Mickelson has one of the more versatile arsenals of shots in the bag the game has ever seen, rivaling the likes of Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson today. What separates him from truly everyone is his phenomenal short game.
Now that he's firing on all cylinders and newly enamored with links golf, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Mickelson follow a regular tournament victory by triumphing at Muirfield.