2014 British Open Predictions: Last-Minute Picks and Projections
Tiger Woods is back and says he is ready to go.
If that alone is not enough to get you pumped for the 2014 British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, there is plenty more.
Phil Mickelson is the defending champion. Rory McIlroy is growing more desperate to match his obvious potential with more consistent results in the tournaments that matter most. Martin Kaymer, fresh off his dominating performance in the U.S. Open, will be in the mix, along with a dozen or more others who have a realistic chance of winning.
But in the center of it all will be Tiger, competing in his first major since undergoing back surgery on March 31. He scoffed at the notion that it's too soon, that he isn't ready—reminding the media that he won the 2008 U.S. Open while playing with what later was diagnosed as a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament and a fractured leg.
"The Sunday before the U.S. Open, I didn’t break 50 for nine holes and still was able to win it in a playoff, with a torn ACL and a broken leg,” Woods told The New York Times. “I’ve proven I can do it."
But that was 2008, and this is 2014. The competition is arguably stiffer, and Woods, now 38, hasn't won a major since capturing that one. Read on to see about his chances, and those of others.
Hoylake Will Not Disappoint
The course at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, more often simply referred to as "Hoylake" because of the seaside English town it is in, will not disappoint.
It is a majestic, old course steeped in history, sitting with the Irish Sea just to the west. The wind often is fierce, as it should be in a British Open—and this will be the 12th Open Championship hosted at Hoylake.
Woods won the last Open played on the course in 2006 just two months after Woods lost his father, Earl Woods, to cancer. After holding off Chris DiMarco with a final-round 67 for a two-shot win, the often-stoic Woods initiated a very emotional and memorable embrace with his then-caddie, Steve Williams.
The last Open at Hoylake prior to that was in 1967, when Roberto de Vicenzo of Argentina held off the likes of a young Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. The legendary Bobby Jones also won an Open on the course in 1930.
Built on a horse race track in 1869, Hoylake hosted its first amateur tournament in 1885. That's the kind of history that U.S. courses just can't match.
Mickelson Ready to Defend
Phil Mickelson tuned up for defense of his Open title by first attempting to defend the Scottish Open championship he also won a year ago.
He was unsuccessful in that endeavor, but he had plenty to be encouraged about after firing a six-under-par 65 in the final round of that tournament at Royal Aberdeen last Sunday. That and the simple fact that he already has won one Claret Jug make him a formidable contender going into this British Open.
"I'm able to go there as a past champion, as opposed to a foreign player who has never been able to conquer links golf," Mickelson told the Associated Press per the (Biloxi, Miss.) Sun-Herald.com. "I just go there with a whole different confidence level.
"There's a fraction of the pressure that I felt before Open Championships from years prior, because once you've already won it, once you have held the Claret Jug and have won, it just feels different. You don't feel like you have to fight it. You don't have to force it."
Rory Needs to Be Right All Four Rounds
Rory McIlory also played in the Scottish Open.
For better or worse—and there was plenty of both—he followed a eye-popping opening round of 64 in that tournament with a disastrous 78 in the second round.
Unfortunately for McIlroy, it wasn't the first time he's had such a collapse. In the Masters earlier this year, he followed a decent opening-round 71 with a 77 on the second day, taking himself out of contention. In the Wells Fargo Championship, an opening 69 was followed by a second-round 76—and at the Memorial, his opening round of 63 was followed by a 78.
He knows he will have to break out of this second-round funk and play four solid rounds to contend at Hoylake, but it just doesn't seem likely based on his recent track record.
"I may be putting too much pressure on myself going out on Fridays and trying to back up a score," McIlroy told Golfweek.com. "I have no problem shooting a low one on Thursday. There should be no reason I have any problem shooting a low one on Friday."
Can Kaymer Copy Open Success?
Martin Kaymer, who blew away the rest of the field to win the U.S. Open handily only one month ago, apparently is now drawing inspiration for the British Open from his fellow German countrymen who captured the World Cup in soccer.
That can't be good news for the rest of the field.
"They were a good, brave, strong team. And they just delivered," Kaymer told GolfLinks.com of the Germany World Cup victors. "And there was nothing about any secrets, just play your game, use the opportunities that you get. Don't make any silly mistakes and wait.
"And that's the same on the golf tournament. You have a day where you don't play that super good, but you hang in there and you play something around par that doesn't get you out of the tournament. Then you wait for that amazing day, that they had against Brazil (7-1 win in the semifinal), and that you need during the golf tournament to win it."
Never Count out Cabrera
Oftentimes in majors, Angel Cabrera rises to the occasion.
But this year, he missed the cut at both the Masters and the U.S. Open—which would have made him an afterthought coming into the British Open had he not won the final PGA Tour event, the Greenbrier Classic, prior to heading to Hoylake. In doing so, Cabrera shot rounds of 68-68-64-64 to finish 16-under.
Now he has at least sneaked onto the radar that includes possible contenders.
The winner of the U.S. Open in 2007 and the Masters in 2009 (where he also finished runner-up after losing in a playoff to Adam Scott in 2013), Cabrera would love to follow in the footsteps of his fellow countryman from Argentina, Roberto de Vicenzo, and claim his third major at Hoylake.
What About the Brits?
What about Britain's own heading into this event?
Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter all would love to claim the first British Open championship of their otherwise fantastic careers, which also would give one of them his first major. But they aren't the Brits to bet on this time.
That would be Justin Rose, who won his last two tournaments leading up to this week's event. And while it was impressive that he beat Tiger Woods and all other comers to claim the trophy in the Quicken Loans National at Congressional, it was more important that he won the Scottish Open on a links course last week.
That gives Rose, winner of the 2013 U.S. Open, the confidence required on the challenging Hoylake course. And he'll need it after missing the cut in three of the last four British Opens, with a tie for 44th in 2011 his best effort over that stretch in the only tournament where he managed to play into the weekend.
Longshots and Dark Horses
Just who is Billy Hurley III? Or better yet, who is Kiradech Aphribarnrat?
Well, they're both in this tournament, and they're both terrific stories just to have made it here.
Hurley III might actually have a chance to do something. The former U.S. Navy lieutenant earned his way into his first British Open by finishing tied for fourth in the Greenbrier Classic, so he's playing well of late after getting a late start on his pro golf career.
Aphirbarnrat, whose Asian Tour biography says he "is nicknamed Asia’s version of John Daly due to his hefty physique and go-for-broke style of play (per FOX Sports)," is back for his second Open championship after taking some time off to become a monk at a Thai Buddhist temple. You've got to love that story even if you've never heard of the guy and he has very little chance of getting in the mix on the leaderboard, or even making the cut, this weekend.
But the best dark-horse bet might be American Brendon Todd, who will be playing in only his second major (the U.S. Open earlier this year was his first) but won the Byron Nelson on the PGA Tour earlier this year and—after Justin Rose—might just be the hottest golfer coming into the tournament.
Maybe It Will Be McDowell
Graeme McDowell, who like Rory McIlroy hails from Northern Ireland, seems poised to possibly make a run at his second major title this weekend at Hoylake.
He won the French Open two weeks ago and seems to be in the right frame of mind. Now 35, he also has a keen sense of his current standing in golf history—and the time he has left in his prime to change the perception many have of him.
"I feel like I'm ready to kick on to the next sort of chapter in my career now, and compete and win more major championships. I certainly don't want to be a one-hit wonder," the 2010 U.S. Open champion told Golfweek.com.
This golf course sets up well for McDowell, as well as Adam Scott and possibly a handful of others who are adept at avoiding hazards and limiting costly mistakes. McDowell is well aware of the chance he let slip from his fingertips in the 2012 British Open, when he played in the final group with Adam Scott on Sunday and was in the mix for a shot at the championship until an uncharacteristic string of three consecutive bogeys did him in (Ernie Els eventually won).
Tiger Inching Toward Top of His Game
So, you want to know more about Tiger and what to expect of him?
The answers you receive depend on who is giving them. Woods keeps professing that he's ready and he's here to finish "first," according to The New York Times.
But even if he strikes the ball well and stays mostly out of trouble, his putting likely will prevent him from doing so. The Times article pointed out that so far this year, albeit in limited action because of the back surgery that sidelined him for three months, Woods has made 94.7 percent of his attempts from inside five feet—down from 97.1 percent in 2006 when he last played at, and won, the Open Championship at Hoylake.
By comparison, the Times pointed out, Justin Rose is converting 96.8 percent of such putts this year and Rose's fellow Englishman Luke Donald is at 98 percent, prompting Times reporter Karen Crouse to write, "On the course, as in the classroom, the difference between a 96.8 or 98 and a 94.7 can be the gulf between the valedictorian and the other high achievers."
And the Winner Will Be...
Adam Scott was in position to win each of the last two British Opens and failed to finish the job.
That won't be the case if he can work his way into final-day contention again this year. Scott, who turned 34 years old on the eve of the first round of this tournament, seems poised to follow in the footsteps of his fellow Australian countryman Greg Norman, who won two Open Championships.
"You want to emulate what your childhood hero has done and Greg winning the Open, it’s always sat very high with me," Scott told Australian.com.
Scott seems to be the type of player who will take full advantage of softer conditions at Hoylake than in 2006. Plus he has a secret weapon: Steve Williams, the caddy who so emotionally embraced Woods after that 2006 Tiger victory at the course, is now on Scott's bag and no doubt will bring additional knowledge of how to play certain shots that other players may lack.
Joe Menzer has written six books and now writes about golf and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.