Just two days remain before the 2014 British Open, the third major of the golf season, officially gets underway. Royal Liverpool will be the setting for some of the top players in the sport to duke it out on the big stage.
Tiger Woods is making his return to a major at The Open and to continue his quest for No. 15. Though he's unarguably one of the best players the sport has ever seen, Woods hasn't won a major since 2008.
With Woods and the entire field looking to tame the course beginning Thursday, here's a look at some of the top favorites and sleepers heading in.
Rory McIlroy (10-1)
Entering the tournament as the odds-on favorite, McIlroy still has a lot of ground to make up to win it all.
The former world No. 1 doesn't have a major victory this year after saying he wanted to win two majors this season. McIlroy is coming in with a strategy after watching Woods master the course back in 2006, as he won the tournament at 18 under.
McIlroy noted Woods' play from that year and why he's now carrying a 2-iron at the difficult course, per Mark Tallentire of The Guardian:
The par-fives are a big key this week. If you look back at ’06, I think Tiger played the par-fives in 14 under par. So the majority of his scoring was done on the par-fives. There are four really good opportunities to make birdies out there. ...
I’ll use [the 2-iron] on the first two holes definitely. It will be an important club, I might use it four or five times in the round. I’ll probably use it just as much as I use the driver.
The Northern Irish player hasn't found much success this year, but he finished inside the top 10 at the Masters to start the major season. If he can find a similar approach and patience at Royal Liverpool, this might just be his first big victory since 2012.
After all, he only has two more majors to go to make good on his proclamation earlier this year.
Adam Scott (14-1)
When it comes to consistency, look no further than Scott.
The Australian won the Crowne Plaza Invitational and finished inside the top 10 at both the Memorial and U.S. Open. He has also has played well in the last two Opens, as Todd Lewis of the Golf Channel points out:
Spoke with Adam Scott who said Royal Liverpool is like Augusta with not a blade of grass out of place. 2nd & 3rd last two years at Open.— Todd Lewis (@ToddLewisGC) July 13, 2014
Though he hasn't played competitively since the U.S. Open, Scott appears to be ready to contend for his first Claret Jug.
Rather than looking to gain confidence at other tournaments, Scott chose to master Hoylake leading up to the illustrious tournament.
He spoke about his approach to this year's competition, via John Huggan of Golf Digest: "I've played every day. Eighteen holes every day since Saturday, when I played 30 holes. I'm very comfortable and familiar with the course. I feel like I need to practice and prepare in a way that I feel my game is going to hold up for four rounds under the most pressure we feel all year."
The world No. 1 has been playing some of the best golf of his career this year, but doesn't have a major win to show for it. That might just change this Sunday as he masters the Royal Liverpool course.
Scott turns 34 on Wednesday, so a Claret Jug would make a fitting late present—giving him two major victories.
Ian Poulter (33-1)
Winning a major to any player is special. For Ian Poulter, capturing the Claret Jug would be the highlight of his career.
Poulter has been known throughout his career for outlandish outfits and a consistent game but never for his accomplishments on the major stage. He spoke about what winning The Open would mean for him, per Donald McRae of The Guardian.
"To win the Open would be awesome," Poulter said. "If I was to only win one major then to etch my name into the Claret Jug would be the most special moment of all."
After finishing inside of the top 10 during the last two British Opens, Poulter looks like a contender yet again. He has two top-20 results this year, but has a chance to close out a huge tournament at Royal Liverpool.
Given his great play already this season in majors, look for Poulter to be in contention on Sunday. If he can finally hoist the Claret Jug, fans will be witness a lifelong dream fulfilled at Hoylake.
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