Because of the unique challenge links golf courses present, handicapping the British Open is a difficult proposition. Royal Liverpool hosted one of the lowest-scoring majors in recent history, as Tiger Woods won the event at 18 under par in 2006. Consequently, golf fans should witness an exciting weekend that enables plenty of movement around the leaderboard.
Due to Woods' season-long back woes and Phil Mickelson's poor form, there are few clear favorites at Hoylake this week. Golf's power vacuum has seen varying degrees of extremity since Tiger's last major victory in 2008, but the parity on tour appears at its highest level in some time.
Nonetheless, a few names stand out as likely contenders for the Claret Jug. Examining the field, via The Open Championship's official website, here are the best choices to take home the year's third major.
The German golfer went on a tear this spring, taking home the Players Championship and U.S. Open. Though he has started just twice since his victory at Pinehurst in June, Kaymer must remain on the short list of legitimate contenders due to his form this summer.
The two-time major champion has been a regular threat in Grand Slam events but has enjoyed precious little success at the British. In fact, Kaymer and another one of this week's top favorites have both struggled in the tour's third major championship:
However, having finally harnessed his retooled swing over the past year, the 29-year-old Kaymer is hitting his prime as an established force on tour. Moreover, a 12th-place finish at the Alstom Open de France last week was an encouraging rebound from his missed cut at the BMW Championship.
With a gritty playing style that bodes well for links golf, it appears only a matter of time before Kaymer breaks through at this event as well.
The tour's most visible young star has struggled thus far on the PGA Tour. Though McIlroy did win the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship in May, inconsistency has plagued the vast majority of his 2014 season.
Though McIlroy's talent remains plainly evident, a mysterious second-round bugaboo has stymied the 25-year-old this year. Last week's Scottish Open illustrated the frustrating trend, as a Friday score of 78 effectively rendered moot his impressive opening-round score of 64. Royal Aberdeen was far from the first occurrence of such a swing:
Rory McIlroy: 3rd time in career he's opened tournament w/ 64 or better & followed with 78 or worse ('10 British, '14 Memorial)— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) July 11, 2014
Unfortunately, McIlroy has also suffered a similar fate at the British. In 2010, an opening-round 63 had him at the top of the leaderboard and poised to capture his first major championship. However, a disastrous second round of 80 led him to ultimately finish tied for third, a painful miss at the time.
McIlroy followed up last week's 78 with two rounds in the 60s to finish 14th overall, an indication of his enormous potential. Though he will remain in consideration at every event he enters, McIlroy must find a way to string together 72 holes to capture his third major championship.
As the Kaymer tweet above illustrates, Rose has had plenty of troubles at the British Open. Since finishing in a tie for fourth as an amateur in 1998, the Englishman has notched just two top-15 appearances at the event. That includes missed cuts in three of the past four years.
However, Rose has demonstrated an excellence on links golf that should make him more than simply a sleeper this week. With a victory in the aforementioned Scottish Open, Rose's game is peaking at the ideal moment:
Justin Rose couldn't look any better heading into the British Open after sealing back-to-back victories in Scotland: http://t.co/eHuQV4Rf7g— Golf.com (@si_golf) July 13, 2014
Moreover, Rose won his last PGA Tour start at Congressional in June. In fact, he has finished in the top 15 in seven of his past nine starts on tour, including at both the Masters and U.S. Open. Rose's form was on the rise even before he won his last two consecutive starts.
Having won the U.S. Open at Merion last year, Rose has already shed his reputation as a golfer who falters on the major championship stage. Though the pressure to win on home soil has clearly affected him in the past, Rose's more recent track record suggests a golfer likely to contend over the weekend.