Several last-minute entries from Sunday's biggest international golf tournaments finalized the field for the 2014 Open Championship. The third major of the season begins Thursday at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake in Merseyside, England.
Links golf is a unique test, and Mother Nature largely dictates how low players can go. If and when the wind starts howling, anything is possible, including ballooning scores. The tricky bounces and landing areas that define the links style are made all the more difficult when the breeze besets the game's very best.
When Hoylake last hosted the British Open in 2006, Tiger Woods fell one stroke short of his own championship scoring record relative to par, totaling 18 under to win by two shots.
Woods will compete in his first major of 2014, seeking to get his year back on track after undergoing surgery and rehabilitation to address a pinched nerve. His presence will inevitably increase the hype surrounding golf's oldest major championship, as Woods looks to tally his 15th major win.
Phil Mickelson is the reigning Open champion, with hopes to overcome his own struggles with a strong defense of his title. Plenty of other stars vying for the Claret Jug are in fine form, so let's take a look at the odds-on favorites, along with an overall preview of the 143rd Open Championship.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
|2014 Open Championship Odds as of Sunday, July 13|
When: Thursday, July 17, through Sunday, July 20
Where: Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake in Merseyside, England
Field: For list of current entries, visit TheOpen.com.
FedEx Cup Points: 600
|Notable Day 1 Tee Times|
|Time (BST)||Time (EST)||Grouping|
|8:26 a.m.||3:26 a.m.||Tom Watson, Jim Furyk, Darren Clarke|
|8:37 a.m.||3:37 a.m.||Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia|
|9:04 a.m.||4:04 a.m.||Tiger Woods, Angel Cabrera, Henrik Stenson|
|9:15 a.m.||4:15 a.m.||Charl Schwartzel, Padraig Harrington, K.J. Choi|
|9:26 a.m.||4:26 a.m.||Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth|
|9:37 a.m.||4:37 a.m.||Ian Poulter, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker|
|9:48 a.m.||4:48 a.m.||Graeme McDowell, Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen|
|1:38 p.m.||8:38 a.m.||Martin Kaymer, Jason Day, Zach Johnson|
|2:05 p.m.||9:05 a.m.||Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson|
|2:27 p.m.||9:27 a.m.||Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner|
|2:38 p.m.||9:38 a.m.||Ryo Ishikawa, Lee Westwood, Keegan Bradley|
Analyzing Marquee Favorites
Tiger Woods (15-1)
Get ready for some serious excitement at Hoylake. This is as good of an opportunity as Woods has had to snap his drought at the majors. His last such win in golf's marquee events came at the 2008 U.S. Open, and it appears Woods is healthier than he's been in years.
Woods was convincing in his recent testimony to ESPN.com's Bob Harig, outlining both the shape of his game and his physical well-being:
I'm not favoring anything. The little baby steps worked. We were very diligent about what I was doing. Going into it we pushed it pretty hard to get my abs and glutes strong so when I did come back I was able to rebound fast. I can do whatever I want. I'm at that point now. We didn't think we'd get to that point until this tournament or the week after.
[...] Before I had the procedure, I was at the point I couldn't do anything. This is how I used to feel. I had been playing with [the back injury] for a while and I had my good weeks and bad weeks. Now they are all good.
Think Woods' return to major competition is anticipated? Check out this information from Yahoo Sports' Shane Bacon:
Missing the cut in his return at the Quicken Loans National is something Woods can be cut a little slack for. At least he got two competitive rounds in before teeing it up on the ultimate stage and trying to be in the running for the top prize.
The rust Woods showed was reflected more in the nuances of his game. Course management wasn't a problem. There were flashes of brilliance in all aspects. The absent facets were feel around the greens when chipping, distance control and the sheer sharpness between the ropes Woods has always had. All of those are corrigible through practice.
We'll see if two rounds was enough to get Woods back in major mode. Based on his history of bouncing back from multiple injuries and numerous swing changes, chances are that Woods will be in the hunt for the Claret Jug.
Justin Rose (15-1)
What better way to enter The Open Championship than with a win at the Quicken Loans National—the PGA Tour stop where Woods serves as host—and a victory at the Scottish Open?
This is some of the best golf Rose has played in his entire career, per Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman:
But Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com is quick to point out Rose's shaky track record at The Open Championship:
The reasoning behind Rose's trials and tribulations, particularly in recent years, can be diagnosed from a distance with reasonable inference. Until his breakthrough major victory at last year's U.S. Open, he had risen into elite company in the world rankings. All his resume was missing? A win in a Grand Slam event.
One can't blame Rose for pressing, which is something that can unravel even the most mentally tough player amid difficult links conditions. Now that Rose has strung together two wins in as many starts, combined with the confidence that comes with a maiden major, he may be ready to take another gigantic step in his excellent career.
Rory McIlroy (10-1)
Hard to believe that McIlroy, talented as he is, hasn't been able to string together four strong rounds on a consistent basis as of late. That happened once again at the Scottish Open. After taking the solo lead through the first round, McIlroy slumped to a 78, getting himself too far out of contention to challenge on the weekend.
Justin Ray of Golf Channel highlighted how brilliant McIlroy has often been for 54 holes of his tournaments this season:
To update that statistic, the last two rounds in Scotland saw McIlroy shoot 68 and 67 for seven under par. Had the Northern Irish wunderkind managed even a modest-level par Friday, he'd have been close to Rose down the stretch.
Imagine what could happen, at an Open venue in Hoylake that yielded so many birdies in 2006, should McIlroy find his groove in Round 2 and be in the thick of things come Sunday. A tie for 14th at the Scottish Open should give McIlroy belief that he's capable of tempering his characteristic, towering ball flight and scoring well on layouts he's struggled on in the past.
McIlroy can get as hot as anyone. If birdies are to be made in bunches at Royal Liverpool, don't be surprised if he strings it all together and runs away from the field as he has in two previous majors.
Phil Mickelson (20-1)
Many years of ineptitude on the links preceded Mickelson's surprising British Open triumph at Muirfield last year. That leg of the career Grand Slam, not the U.S. Open, is the one Lefty seemed destined never to get.
Then Mickelson made the necessary adjustments, something McIlroy can learn from given their similar launch angles and resultant power, which gets somewhat diminished at times overseas. The final-round 66 Mickelson had at the 2013 Open is as good as he's ever played.
Although he failed to defend at the Scottish Open, Mickelson still had a fine week—one of his best of the season, to be exact—placing joint 11th. A 65 on the final day gives Mickelson a big boost. He made eight birdies to shake off putting woes that have hampered him for months.
Tee to green hasn't been the problem for Mickelson. If he can get the flat iron hot, there's no reason he couldn't contend, presuming his ball striking holds up as it has. The generous landing areas offered by Hoylake's wide fairways give Mickelson more of an edge here than at other Open venues.
There are other notable favorites between the top one in McIlroy and the other three analyzed. But Martin Kaymer, dominant winner of the U.S. Open, may suffer the same letdown fate Rose did last year. Henrik Stenson, a FedEx Cup champion and runner-up at the last Open Championship, still must prove his putting is up to snuff before being endorsed as a serious candidate to come out on top.
World No. 1 Adam Scott stands to benefit from the generous scoring Hoylake tended to yield in 2006, should the environment be similar this time around. A top-10 finish at the U.S. Open bodes well, yet Scott has been on hiatus ever since, making him a more uncertain commodity than usual.
Any of these world-class golfers could rise to the occasion and seize the Claret Jug. Woods' comeback will own headlines, but the depth of star power in modern golf should be evident in Merseyside, fostering an excellent major challenge.