Young Golf Stars with the Best Chance to Win the 2014 British Open
Which youngsters are primed to raise the Claret Jug at the 2014 British Open? Before addressing that question, let's define "young." For our purposes, anyone under 25 is positively a whippersnapper.
Bad news for this crowd: The average age of the last five Open champions is 38.2 (Mickelson, Els, Clarke, Oosthuizen, Cink). Thus, recent history doesn't suggest that a young man will taste victory at Royal Liverpool this year.
Still, if a 25-and-under-er is going to win next week, it'll almost certainly be one of the (young) men on this list.
Read on to see who will join the obvious inclusions Misters McIlroy and Spieth.
Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR): 8
Why He Could Win: Consensus pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy tied for third at the Open Championship in 2010. Since that point, however, the Ulsterman hasn't had a strong showing in the competition. He even missed the cut at Muirfield last year.
All season long, though, McIlroy has been on form.
In addition to winning the BMW PGA Championship, he's made the cut in all 10 of his PGA Tour starts and finished inside the top 10 an impressive six times. He's hitting 67.7 percent of greens in regulation, which is two percent better than his percentage last season, and he leads the tour in birdie average.
McIlroy may be the best long-iron player in the game, and his swing is grooved right now. On paper, he's the man to beat at Hoylake. And if his mind is right, the Claret Jug should be his.
Why He Could Win: Jason Day tied for 20th at the Masters following a lengthy layoff and finished tied for fourth at the U.S. Open. Thus, even though he's spent much of 2014 on the sidelines due to injury, his game is still relatively sharp. Day is hitting 64.6 percent of greens in regulation and finding 61.6 percent of fairways. In addition he plays par-fives well, which will be a key at Royal Liverpool.
While he's recorded multiple top-10 finishes in the other major championships, Day is yet to figure out the courses of the Open rota. His best finish in three starts at the R&A's event is a tie for 30th at the 2011 tournament.
At Muirfield last year, he was undone by a final-round 77 en route to a tie for 32nd. He'll be hoping for a better result when he tees it up at Royal Liverpool in a week. If he avoids another Sunday blowup, the adoptive Ohioan could very well contend at Hoylake.
Why He Could Win: One of the youngest members of this list, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth proved he's major-winning material when he played in the final group at the Masters this year.
Spieth opened with a tidy 69 at Muirfield last year. He wasn't able to follow the performance with anything special, unfortunately, and he eventually finished tied for 44th in his maiden Open Championship voyage.
His last two times out in 2014, the Texan tied for 17th at the U.S. Open and tied for 11th at the Quicken Loans National, so his game is in good shape heading to Hoylake. He's teeing it up this week at the venue (TPC Deere Run) where he won his first tournament and will likely take positive momentum with him overseas, regardless of his performance in Illinois.
While his accuracy off the tee is troubling, Spieth is an expert scrambler and putter. If conditions are tough, he could grind out three solid rounds and be hanging around the top of the leaderboard next Sunday.
Why He Could Win: A winner on tour already this year, 22-year-old Hideki Matsuyama (then 21) was superb last season in his first Open Championship appearance. The young Japanese golfer put together four solid rounds and finished tied for sixth, which is really unheard of stuff.
This year, of course, he won the Memorial Tournament. Additionally, he's made 13 of 16 cuts with four top-10 finishes. While he'll need to hit more fairways than he's accustomed to if he wants to contend next week, it's important to remember that Matsuyama is fifth on the tour in birdie average and converts for par better than 60 percent of the time he's forced to scramble.
If Hoylake plays like it did in 2006—when Tiger Woods won with an 18-under total—the winner this year will need to make birdies in bunches, something Matsuyama is equipped to do.
Why He Could Win: Twenty-one-year-old Matteo Manassero has fallen significantly in the Official World Golf Ranking since the beginning of the season when he was ranked 43rd in the world.
The young Italian excelled in all things British in 2009 when he won the British Amateur Championship and tied for 13th as the low amateur in the Open Championship. In his two succeeding appearances in England's national championship, Manassero missed the cut.
He's made five of seven cuts on the PGA Tour this season, but he didn't sniff the cut line at the Masters, thanks to a second-round 81. However, Manassero has improved his driving distance, driving accuracy and greens-in-regulation numbers substantially since last year (in a limited sample).
Although just 21, Manassero has serious links golf chops and seems to be longer and more precise with the weaponry at his disposal this year. If he puts together four solid rounds at the Scottish Open this week, he'll enter the Open Championship with positive momentum and tools that could get the job done at Royal Liverpool.
Why He Could Win: Frenchman Victor Dubuisson played the 2010 Open Championship as an amateur and missed the cut. He hasn't teed it up in the season's third major since that point.
This year, he's made six of seven cuts on the PGA Tour with just one top-10 finish. However, he showed some serious mettle in his battle with Jason Day at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. His escape-artist routine proved the 24-year-old is an adept scrambler and blessed with an impressive imagination.
He'll need both at Royal Liverpool this year.
Why He Could Win: A bright young American talent, 24-year-old Harris English has competed in the last two Open Championships, finishing tied for 54th in 2012 and tied for 15th in 2013.
Thus, he's getting more comfortable at links-style golf.
English won the OHL Classic at Mayakoba earlier this year and has totaled seven top-10 finishes in 2014. He's eighth on tour in greens in regulation (69.2 percent), ninth in birdie average and is leading the tour in scoring, averaging 69.7 strokes per round.
The Georgia native is eighth on tour in par-five performance as well.
All of the above will benefit him greatly at Hoylake.