British Open 2014: Burning Questions at Royal Liverpool
Thursday's first round of the 143rd British Open is looming, and as always, there are some burning questions about the festivities at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
The health and readiness of Tiger Woods is one, as is just what kind of test this links course will be for the field of the best players in the world.
Will there be a surprise contender or even a surprise winner?
We delve into a half-dozen questions on everyone's mind as the excitement for the Open Championship builds.
Just How Good Can Tiger Woods Be?
As is everything with Tiger Woods, just how good he can be in this week's Open Championship is a subject of great debate.
Woods has played two rounds of competitive golf in four months, the result of back surgery, a microdiscectomy that kept him out of competition. Those two rounds, in his own tournament, the Quicken Loans National, weren't very good (74, 75) and he missed the cut.
Woods wasn't displeased with his performance, all things considered, but missed the cut by four shots.
"A lot of positives to take away from these last two days," Woods said in a USA Today story by Steve DiMeglio. "I had no setbacks. I got my feel for playing tournament golf. I missed the cut by four shots, but I came back four weeks earlier than we thought I could."
Can Justin Rose Make It 3 in a Row?
Recent form is oftentimes a good indicator of how a player may perform, and Justin Rose is one of those who hopes that's the case this week.
His victory in the Scottish Open on Sunday, coupled with his win in the Quicken Loans National two weeks ago, makes him the hottest player in the field in this week's Open Championship.
Those two victories are compelling evidence of how well Rose is playing, but they are a microcosm of the season he's having. He's had eight top-10 finishes worldwide and has won over $4 million.
With the win at Aberdeen, Rose has now won on tough tracks like Merion, Doral, Valderrama and Congressional. He tore up a tough Aberdeen on Sunday with a six-birdie, no-bogey round of 65.
Rory McIlroy may be the favorite going in, but don't overlook Rose.
What Kind of Test Will Royal Liverpool Be?
In 2006, Royal Liverpool was a dust ball. Hard, firm, fast and, well, dusty.
Tiger Woods took advantage of those conditions to use his driver only one time the entire tournament, blistering his 3-wood unbelievable distances and winning by a pair of shots.
He finished with a ridiculous score of 18-under par.
The conditions won't be the same this week. Royal Liverpool is lush and green, but even Woods was surprised early in the week by how firm the course was.
“It’s definitely different, there’s no doubt,’’ Woods said in a New York Post story by Mark Cannizzaro following his initial practice round there. “It’s lush, but it’s still playing fast.’’
The weather will play a big factor—it always does at links courses—but don't expect the scoring to be quite as low this time around. Royal Liverpool will be a better test this week.
Can Tom Watson Finish His Open Championship Career Strong?
Tom Watson has won the Open Championship five times, more than any other American. He nearly had a sixth, falling to Stewart Cink in a playoff in 2009.
This week, he'll tee it up for the 37th time across the ocean, one appearance short of Jack Nicklaus and Sandy Herd at 38. In all likelihood, he'll tie that mark next year when he makes his final Open start on the Old Course at St. Andrews.
He's proved he can still play on the Champions Tour and shows occasional glimpses of greatness in his rare appearances on the PGA Tour.
Nobody knows links golf better than Watson. And if there was ever a 64-year-old who could find a way to be a factor in golf's oldest championship, it's Watson.
A Martin Kaymer Double?
With the notable exception of the Masters, Martin Kaymer has been spectacular in golf's biggest events this year.
He won the Players Championship and then dominated the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, both wire-to-wire victories. Kaymer was mediocre at Augusta National, finishing tied for 31st, but since then, he's been dynamite when the stakes were highest.
As you might expect, Kaymer's stats are very good; the only one that stands out negatively is his putting. He is 114th in strokes gained putting at minus-.059.
If he's able to win at Royal Liverpool, Kaymer would become just the eighth player to win both of the Opens in the same year. Woods was the last to do so when he blew away Open fields at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews in 2000.
My colleague, Tom Weir, detailed the stiff challenge at hand for Kaymer, including this tidbit on the notorious second half of the double: "The British Open traditionally is an exercise in golfing sadism, where it's considered a kindness if the rough is only knee-high."
Can an Inexperienced Player Win This Week?
Winning the Open Championship is probably a lot to ask of a guy like Brendon Todd or a feel-good guy like Erik Compton, but then again, it was probably a lot to think that Phil Mickelson would win the title in 2013.
But he did, even though he's done virtually nothing since.
Todd was red-hot in May and June and has an exceptional short game, which should be a valuable tool on a links course. Can he win in his first appearance in this event? He'd definitely be a long shot.
Compton won the hearts of the world with his performance at Pinehurst, finishing in a tie for second with Rickie Fowler. Compton, of course, is a two-time heart transplant recipient.
He showed he has plenty of game, but the odds are certainly stacked against him.
Bottom line: It's possible a player with little or no Open Championship history will win—Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis did it in 2004 and 2003, respectively—but for the most part, experience is a big factor in who wins and who doesn't.