British Open 2013: Golfers to Watch on Day 2

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2013

British Open 2013: Golfers to Watch on Day 2

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    Grey, cold, gloomy and miserable. That’s the Open Championship we know and love and, most importantly, what we expect. Muirfield, however, was played under gorgeous sunshine and blue skies Thursday and is forecast to remain that way at the 142nd Open Championship. 

    Whereas the weather is usually the overwhelming challenge at the Open, the fast and firm conditions are at the forefront of this championship. Zach Johnson (-5) navigated Muirfield to near perfection and is the first-round leader ahead of a Rafael Cabrera-Bello (-4) and the surprise of the tournament, 56-year-old Mark O'Meara (-4).

    As expected, Phil Mickelson (-2) continued his terrific play of late, and Tiger Woods (-2) got his putter rolling and is in contention as he looks to snap his five-year drought without a major championship. 

    Keep on reading to see the other players to watch in Friday’s second round at Muirfield.


Mark O'Meara (-4)

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    It's always refreshing to watch an old-timer compete with the youngsters (no offense to the old-timers out there).

    The two-time major champion went on a tear on Muirfield’s front nine with five birdies and four pars to open with a 31. He faltered a bit on the back nine with three bogeys, but an eagle at the 17th hole brought him back to four under for the championship.

    O’Meara is no stranger to contending in major championships and has shown command over his game this season on the Senior Tour. He's coming off a 19th-place finish at the U.S. Men’s Senior Open and is having a spectacular season with seven top 10s.

    Just a stroke off the lead, O’Meara has a chance to remain a threat if he can play with the same consistency and poise he displayed Thursday. He was precise from tee to green, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation.

    He’ll go off later in the day Friday, which means potentially more severe winds and also increases the likelihood of higher scores. Perhaps, though, a veteran like O’Meara will be able to maneuver his way around the links and bank on his experience, touch and course knowledge. 

Jordan Spieth (-2)

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    19-year-old Jordan Spieth should be nowhere near Scotland right now. He should be on his couch at home in Texas watching the Open Championship.

    Instead, he’s contending at Muirfield after his two-under-par 69 in his second major championship.

    A miraculous bunker shot at the 18th hole last Sunday at the John Deere Classic put Spieth in a three-way playoff that he ultimately won for his first PGA Tour victory. The immediate consequence of that unforgettable victory for Spieth was not solely the win itself, but the door it opened to a spot in the 142nd Open Championship.

    Despite a lack of experience in majors and links-style conditions alike, Spieth navigated Muirfield’s windy, fast and firm conditions like a veteran. He hit nine of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation, a terrific feat for a first-timer.

    Although there a few teenagers in the field who put up solid rounds, Spieth posted the lowest, most impressive number. Spieth did an excellent job of avoiding the crater-like bunkers and knee-high rough in Round 1, and if he can play with the same accuracy Friday, he'll have a chance at contending.

Phil Mickelson (-2)

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    Nobody entered Muirfield with as much momentum as Phil Mickelson, and he capitalized on it with a two-under-par 69 in his opening round.

    Lefty’s heartbreaking tied-for-second finish at the U.S. Open last month paired with a win at the Scottish Open last week make him a favorite this week. He’s living up to the hype, as he's just three shots off the leader.

    Mickelson has also taken his medicine, removing his driver from his bag—for now the second major in a row—and adding an extra wedge to combat the links style conditions. He was solid off the tee Thursday, hitting 10 of 14 fairways, but he will need to make an adjustment with his irons after carding just 13 of 18 greens in regulation.

    Shot-making is at a premium at Muirfield because of the constantly changing wind direction. When you add in the fast and firm conditions, shaping the ball from left to right, right to left or even keeping it under the wind is imperative to scoring. For a player of Mickelson’s caliber and wide-ranging experience, he should be able to adapt and post another under-par number Friday.

Brandt Snedeker (-3)

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    It should be no surprise to see Brandt Snedeker’s name near the top of the Open Championship leaderboard. The Georgia native held the 36-hole lead at last year’s Open and finished tied for third.

    Snedeker has a sneaky, dangerously good game from tee to green. He’s not flashy and plays quickly, and it works well for him. The 2012 FedEx Cup champion, Snedeker posted three top-three finishes in his first four events of 2013. Since then, he’s cooled off a bit, but he is undeniably a force to be reckoned with this week.

    He’s consistently one of the best putters on tour, and this year he has made substantial improvements to his ball-striking (16th in greens in regulation on Tour) and his game off the tee (30th in driving accuracy).

    Snedeker's game is versatile and sharp on all ends. He's been a factor in a host of majors over the last few seasons and has the kind of momentum at this major Adam Scott had heading into the Masters and Justin Rose had at the U.S. Open. Now it’s just a matter of nerves and execution.

Shiv Kapur (-3)

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    That may well have been the collective response as sports fans watched Shiv Kapur climb the Open Championship leaderboard Thursday. The relatively unknown Indian professional made a mockery of the front nine, posting six birdies in his first seven holes to shoot 30.

    Kapur cooled off on the back nine but is still undeniably in contention.

    You may not know much about him for good reason. He's ranked 210th in the world and had 500-1 odds at the start of this championship. The truth is, there’s always that one random golfer who makes a run on Day 1. Remember Toshinori Muto? Yeah, I don’t really either. But he began last year’s Open Championship with a three-under-par 67, only to finish at 11 over, tied for 72nd.

    That’s not a dig at Kapur, who may disrupt the norm with a solid finish this week. With two professional wins on his resume, including wins at the Indian and Malaysian Opens in 2000, Kapur is playing in just his second major championship since the 2006 Open Championship, where he missed the cut.

    So far, he is the feel-good story of the Open Championship, but the question remains—can he sustain his early momentum and make a charge at the claret jug?

Miguel Angel Jimenez (-3)

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    Miguel Angel Jimenez opened Thursday with a three-under-par 68, his ninth consecutive round under 72 at the Open Championship.

    The Spaniard has knocked on the door of winning his first major championship many times and has once again put himself in excellent position to make a run at the coveted Claret Jug.

    He tore through Muirfield's front nine with a five-under-par 31, followed by a two-over-par 37 on the back. Jimenez has finished inside the top 30 in five of the last six Open Championships, notably finishing tied for ninth last year.

    At 49 years old, Jimenez has never conformed to the stereotypical golfer image. He’s a cigar aficionado, never hesitating to light up midround. He has a passion for cars and is known for driving his red 1999 Ferrari 550 Marenello to tournaments in Spain. He flips the conventional golfer image on its head, and he's definitely a player worth watching as he battles for a place in Open Championship history.

Ernie Els (+3)

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    Historically at the Open Championship, Ernie Els has been phenomenal. In 22 appearances, Els has 13 top-10 finishes, including a pair of victories.

    Thursday, however, something was off for the Big Easy.

    His opening-round three-over puts him eight shots off the pace, set by Zach Johnson (-5). Based on Els’ penchant for links golf and his momentum entering Muirfield (last year’s Open winner and a tie for fourth last month at the U.S. Open), he has as good a shot as anyone in the field to battle back into contention.

    We know Els is the whole package—length off the tee, a dynamic ability to shape shots in the wind and terrific touch on and around the greens. He’ll face more severe, gusty Scottish winds in his afternoon tee time Friday, but the challenge may spur Els to rise to the occasion.

Zach Johnson (-5, Leader)

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    Zach Johnson’s opening-round five-under-par 66 was just one shot behind his first-round score at last year’s Open Championship.

    Unfortunately for Johnson, over-par rounds in the second and fourth rounds last year ruined his chance at a second major championship, but Johnson still finished tied for ninth and again showed his affinity for links golf Thursday.

    He had just a single blemish on his scorecard: a bogey at the 14th hole. But his 31 on the front nine was flawless, with five pars, three birdies and an eagle. Johnson couldn’t have drawn it up any better, and he’s now the Round 1 leader at the 142nd Open Championship.

    Muirfield sets up well for the Iowa native, whose accuracy off the tee and crafty short game make him a contender every time he tees it. To remain a threat, Johnson will not only have to continue hitting fairways (nine of 14 Thursday), but he'll also have to put a premium on shaping shots in the windy, late-afternoon conditions he’ll face Friday.

Rory McIlroy (+8)

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    Keep an eye on Rory McIlroy Friday purely to observe how he responds after a failure of a first round (79).

    It’d be a very promising sign if McIlroy could fire a low number Friday and make the cut. As of right now, though, he's well off the pace, a jaw-dropping 13 shots behind the leader, Zach Johnson (-5).

    There’s no denying the conditions at Muirfield are seriously challenging, not to mention that McIlroy entered the championship with a host of poor performances. As the No. 2 player in the world, McIlroy's issue's have been well documented, primarily his struggles adjusting to new club technology as part of his recent deal with Nike. While financially lucrative for the 24-year-old, the deal is not paying off in his golf game. 

    Friday will be a test of not only McIlroy's skill and technique but also of his mental fortitude. Don't forget, McIlroy is a two-time major champion and a two-time Ryder Cup winner.

    He knows how to contend; now, he has to learn how to battle from behind.

Tiger Woods (-2)

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    Tiger Woods’ first tee shot sounded the alarms for panic across the Scotland grounds at Muirfield. An errant shot out of bounds led to a quick one-stroke penalty. Realistically, when does an opening bogey bode well for a major championship?

    For the 14-time major champion, perhaps it helped him get rid of any butterflies, because he regrouped and settled into a rhythm for an opening-round score of two under par.

    Although Woods wasn’t incredibly consistent from tee to green, he demonstrated that every part of his game is strong after being sidelined for a month due to an elbow injury. Woods displayed a host of excellent tee shots, expertly shaped irons and well-crafted up-and-downs.

    His putting was especially strong, which is a promising sign for Woods after a pair of poor performances on the greens at the Memorial and U.S. Open before Muirfield. Woods is a fiend for fast greens—why do you think he loves Augusta so much? He converted on a variety of crucial par saves and had a brief streak of birdies on the 10th, 11th and 13th holes.

    Woods’ weakness Thursday was judging his distance with his irons, which was clear after hitting just 12 of 18 greens in regulation. He’d often launch his shot in the air and then watch it skip through the Muirfield greens, which were so firm and fast that they might as well have been concrete.

    Starting strong gives Woods instant momentum as he looks to close his five-year drought without a major championship that spans 16 appearances. Stay tuned!