British Open 2014: Definitive Manual for The Open Championship
It's time to get the coffee pot working in overdrive, golf fans. The best in the game head across the pond this week to contest the third major of the year, the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
This is the 143rd edition of the British Open, and it is shaping up to be a great one. Phil Mickelson is trying to retain the Claret Jug, Tiger Woods is playing his first major of the year, Rory McIlroy is swinging big and British golfer Justin Rose is on a roll.
Joining them will be 20-year-old sensation Jordan Spieth, U.S. Open winner Martin Kaymer, world No. 1 Adam Scott and Masters champion Bubba Watson.
So set your alarm clocks for early in the morning on Thursday and get ready for links golf to take over.
Here's everything you need to know to get ready for Hoylake.
All About Royal Liverpool
This year, the Open Championship will be held at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Merseyside in north-west England. The seaside links course is actually located in Hoylake, a small town outside of Liverpool.
The golf course was founded 145 years ago and was given the "Royal" appointment in 1871 due to the patronage of the Duke of Connaught of the day, a younger son of Queen Victoria. It was built on the Liverpool Hunt Club.
Robert Chambers and George Morris originally constructed the course, and Harry Colt redesigned it at the beginning of the 20th century.
The club has held the Open Championship 11 previous times, most recently in 2006 when Tiger Woods won with a score of 18-under par.
Where to Watch on Television
In addition to television coverage, you can follow the Open Championship online on ESPN3 or Watch ESPN, where you can even find a stream fully dedicated to Tiger Woods.
For traditional coverage, here's where to look (all times ET):
4 a.m. to 3 p.m., ESPN
4 a.m. to 3 p.m., ESPN
7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., ESPN
6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., ESPN
How Will Tiger Woods Fare in His First Major of the Year?
Let's not kid ourselves. While there are plenty of great stories and players to follow at this year's Open Championship, nothing is as big as Tiger's return.
Woods missed the first two majors of the year after having back surgery this spring, and now, in only his second tournament back, he'll be competing at Royal Liverpool where he won in 2006.
Woods talked with Bob Harig of ESPN after his first practice round on the course and said that he is feeling great:
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.
Can Phil Mickelson Defend His Title?
Last year, Mickelson won his first British Open title and finally conquered the links courses that had bothered him for so much of his career.
Lefty has not had a great year on the PGA Tour, but he still feels good about his game heading back to the Open Championship.
"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 said to The Associated Press (via the Boston Herald).
"I just go there with a whole different confidence level."
Will Justin Rose Keep His Winning Ways Going?
Tiger and Phil might be hogging the headlines, but Rose is the hottest golfer in the men's game right now.
The 2013 U.S. Open winner has won back-to-back tournaments at the Quicken Loans National and the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open this month.
The popular British golfer will have the support of the home crowd this week, and it will be exciting to see if he can keep his winning streak going and win his second major on home turf.
The Top Pairings
Tiger Woods, Angel Cabrera and Henrik Stenson (4:04 a.m. ET Thursday)
Obviously, Woods would be watched no matter who he was playing with, but it does help that the 14-time major champion has good company for the first two days.
The always engaging Cabrera is in good form, coming off a win at the Greenbriar Classic, and Stenson is trying to improve on his runner-up finish at the Open Championship last year.
Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama (4:26 a.m.)
This will be fun. Spieth is hungry to win his first major yesterday, McIlroy is eager to re-establish himself at the top of the game, and Matsuyama is a force to be reckoned with. This youth movement will help keep you awake during these early Open mornings.
Martin Kaymer, Jason Day and Zach Johnson (8:38 a.m.)
Kaymer has to be in the conversation at this major after his awfully impressive win at the U.S. Open last month, and Day and Johnson are always dangerous. This group certainly has the grit and the control to play links golf.
Bubba Watson, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson (9:05 a.m.)
This group has the last two Open Championship winners and the current holder of the green jacket, so there should not be a dearth of confidence in this bunch.
Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner (9:27 a.m.)
The No. 1 golfer in the world is paired with the in-form local hero and Dufner, who has never finished in the top 25 at an Open Championship. There will be some great shotmaking, a lot of crowd support and likely some ghastly misses as well. Should be a blast.
The Top Contenders
As we've already mentioned, Rose is on a hot streak right now and has climbed up to No. 3 in the rankings. He's missed the cut at the Open Championship three of the last four years, but with his current form, it would be a surprise if the Brit wasn't in contention on Sunday.
If Woods is in a tournament, he is going to be one of the favorites. That's just what happens when you're one of the best golfers ever. Now that the three-time Open Championship winner is healthy again, a lot of journalists have high hopes for Woods this week.
His peers do too, as Matt Kuchar told Ewan Murray of The Guardian: "I absolutely think [Woods] could contend."
Don't forget about the top-ranked golfer in the world. Scott has finished in the top 10 in his last three tournaments, and he's finished in the top three the last two years at the Open Championship. He could run away with his second major here at Royal Liverpool.
Stenson is mighty under-the-radar for the current No. 2, but don't overlook him. The Swede has finished in the top five in his last three tournaments, including the U.S. Open, and was the runner-up at the Open last year. He likes links golf, enjoys playing in Europe and is hungry to win his first major.
A relaxed and confident Mickelson is always a dangerous thing, and despite his sub-par year, Lefty's spirits are high as he tries to retain the Claret Jug. Count him out at your own peril.
Kaymer has won the last two big events on the golfing calendar, with his Players Championship victory and his dominant U.S. Open win. The two-time major winner hasn't finished in the top 10 at an Open Championship since 2010, but he's playing the best golf of his career right now and should be feared.
The Dark Horses
It's a golf major, so the field is packed with dark horses. However, looking at the field of contenders, a few names really stand out.
Sergio Garcia has played some of the best golf of his career at the Open Championship. He has seven top-10 finishes at the major, including a runner-up finish in 2007 and a tie for fifth in 2006, the last year the tournament was held at Royal Liverpool.
He's had a steady season in the Top 10 of the rankings, and this could be his week to finally win his maiden major.
British golfer Ian Poulter could also be a surprise winner. He finished tied for third at the Open Championship last year, tied for ninth in 2012 and was the runner-up in 2008. He loves links golf, and his patience could be rewarded with the Claret Jug this week.
Also keep an eye on Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson. All three of those guys have the talent to find their way to the top of the leaderboard.
This is looking like familiar territory here in 2014—once again, some oddsmakers are picking Rory McIlroy as the favorite to win a major, this time the British Open at Royal Liverpool.
I have to agree with the lines: McIlroy is looking dangerous.
While the Northern Irish golfer has won a PGA Championship and the U.S. Open, he's never finished higher than third in the closest major to his hometown, the Open Championship. It's time to change that.
As my colleague Tom Weir wrote:
There’s a sense he emerged from the womb with all the tools to win this tricky little tournament, and competing at Royal Liverpool this week provides the ideal proving ground. This is the course where Northern Ireland saw its first British Open champion and first winner of any major crowned, when Fred Daly won at Royal Liverpool in 1947.
McIlroy has played some of the best golf of his career this season. The problem is that he hasn't been able to put together his best golf for four rounds—he usually has at least one disastrous round per tournament.
But after his third round at the Scottish Open last week, McIlroy said that he was feeling good about his game heading into Hoylake, as reported by Independent.ie:
I feel much more prepared going into next week. Coming in here I was hitting these shots that I needed into the wind on the range and hitting them perfectly, but today I hit a couple that weren't so good. Hitting them in practice and hitting them under the gun are two completely different things and being able to do that over the past three days and tomorrow as well can only help going into next week.
It's just about getting rid of these bad stretches of holes or these bad second rounds or whatever it is. If I can get rid of that, then there's no reason why I can't go next week and really contend.
With McIlroy's booming driver, flashy shotmaking and competitive drive, he's going to be hard to beat this week at the third major of the year.