British Open 2014: Golfers to Watch on Day 1

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

British Open 2014: Golfers to Watch on Day 1

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    Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    There are golfers the television cameras will follow en masse and then there are golfers who may not get the attention they deserve.

    There are the obvious choices in Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, but there are a slurry of other golfers a few kilometers off the radar who are worth paying attention to. This slideshow takes a look at some of the big names, sure, but also some of the lesser-known players who could be a threat.

    On Day 1 of the tournament, it will be important for the following golfers to put themselves into a position where they can strike. None of these guys is peddling pharmaceuticals or formerly engaged to tennis pros. These are players with a shot at winning this tournament, but only if they have a solid Day 1.

    Read on to see some big and not-so-big names that have a big, big chance at winning this tournament.

Lee Westwood

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Tee Time: 9:38 a.m. ET

    It is so easy to overlook Lee Westwood. He plays most of his tournaments in Europe, yet every time this guy tees it up in a major golf tournament he finds himself in contention. He hasn't won yet and that's the 800-pound gorilla in the room. The 799-pound gorilla accompanying the 800-pound gorilla is that for as many great efforts he racks up, he also throws in as many duds.

    Kyle Porter, golf writer for CBS Sports, writes:

    I can't say I understand it but Westwood always seems to show up for the majors. He has finished top three in three of the past five years at this tournament! And wouldn't it be something if he could finally bring one home in his home country.

    Westwood has finished second twice and and third four times in majors. Westwood finished third last year, the same year Mickelson played the best final round of golf of his career. 

    In 2006, the last time the British Open was at Hoylake, Westwood finished 31st. He bookended that round with 69s. If Westwood can match those rounds he'll be a strong contender for the Claret Jug and certainly a golfer worth watching on Day 1.

Henrik Stenson

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    Tee Time: 4:04 a.m. ET

    Henrik Stenson isn’t flying under the radar per se since he was last year’s runner-up and has finished third in 2010 and 2008. Even on Vegas Insider, he’s the third choice on the morning line at 16-1.

    A year ago, Stenson shot a first-round 70. In 2008, a year he finished third, he shot an opening-round 76. Clearly he’s a golfer who can come out strong and hold steady to the end. He’s also a golfer who can start slow and then pick it up.

    Will Gray of Golf Channel writes:

    A runner-up last year, Stenson has finished no worse than T-21 in his last six majors overall. He enters this week with top-7 finishes in his last four starts, including a tie for second in Germany in his last event. The Swede tied for fourth at the U.S. Open last month and possesses both the game and the temperament to conquer Royal Liverpool this week.

    Stenson isn’t sneaking up on anyone, but he’s a pseudo big name that merits Day 1 attention.

Jason Day

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Tee Time: 8:38 a.m. ET

    Jason Day’s performance at the British Open hasn’t come close to matching how he plays at the other majors. One would have to exclude this year’s Masters, since he finished tied for 20th, which isn't terrible, but not exactly inspiring.

    He tied for fourth at the U.S. Open, a tournament performance made all the more impressive by the way Martin Kaymer ran away from the field. It would be easy, so to speak, to ease up when winning the tournament is impossible. Playing for second place is just another way of playing for yourself and Day did just that at Pinehurst.

    Day battled a thumb injury that caused him to miss a tournament earlier this month so Day 1 will be the best indicator if he’s ready to fire off a great weekend or flame out before Saturday.

    "It's been the major I haven't really played well in," Day said in an story. "I think it's just going to take some time for me to adjust to how you have to play golf over here. It took Phil (Mickelson) 20 years or so to win his first one. I've just got to keep at it.”

Jamie Donaldson

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Tee Time: 8:54 a.m. ET

    Jamie Donaldson is one of the stronger players on the European Tour and someone who isn’t entirely familiar on this side of the Atlantic. He’s played in three prior Open Championships and while they haven’t been impressive finishes, he has been improving with every try.

    In 2006 he finished 136th. It would be six years before he played in another Open. In 2012 he finished 60th and in 2013 he finished 32nd. That kind of upward trending is positive for a golfer who plays most of his golf on courses similar to Royal Liverpool.

    Donaldson finished T-14 at the Masters and missed the cut at the U.S. Open. He paired two fifth-place efforts in the BMW International Open and the Alstom Open de France, yet didn’t make the cut at the big Open prep: the Scottish Open.

    He’s won twice on the European Tour this year and is ranked third in Europe (31st in the world).

    Donaldson is an under-the-radar player who has the chance to win his first major and introduce himself as one of the game’s better links players.

Hideki Matsuyama

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    Peter Morrison/Associated Press

    Tee Time: 4:26 a.m. ET

    Hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun, Hideki Matsuyama hasn’t been getting quite the attention he deserves. He’s young, yes, but he also finished sixth at Muirfield a year ago and made the cut at this year’s Masters.

    Vegas Insider has Matsuyama at 55-1 while CBS Sports has him at 50-1 to win. This sparked Kyle Porter to write, "That 50-1 number is a joke. Matsuyama won at Muirfield Village earlier this season and finished T6 at Muirfield (original) last year. He will be heard from."

    Matsuyama won the Memorial this year in a playoff. Tournament host Jack Nicklaus said, “I just think you've just seen the start of what's going to be truly one of your world's great players over the next 10 to 15 years."

    Keep an eye out for Matsuyama and see where he stands after Day 1.

Ernie Els

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Tee Time: 9:05 a.m. ET

    Remember this guy? He’s even got a blog leading up to this year’s Open. hosts it. Els writes:

    And it’s exciting to be back at Hoylake, a great Open venue and a great links test. My history on this course goes back to the late 1980s when I won a top amateur tournament here, the Tillman Trophy. Looking at the photo of a skinny teenage version of me that still hangs on the wall in the clubhouse, I’m amazed the wind didn’t blow me over that week!

    Els is a two-time winner of the British Open, winning his latest in 2012. In 2006, the last time the Open was at Royal Liverpool, Els finished third. Els was 26th last year and can never be discounted.

    The Big Easy has just one top 10 and has been playing dismally for the greater part of 2014. His lone top 10 was a fourth-place finish in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championships. He missed the cut at Augusta and was tied for 35th at the U.S. Open.

    In 2012, when he won the British, that was following a year when he finished 110th. Day 1 will tell the story. If he’s in the high 60s, don’t count him out.

Sergio Garcia

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    Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    Tee Time: 3:37 a.m. ET

    Much attention will be—and should be—on Sergio Garcia’s early rounds. If ever there was a major championship that Garcia could win it’s the Open.

    He lost in a playoff in 2007 and finished fifth here at Royal Liverpool in 2006. Those years he shot 65 and 68 in the first round, respectively. It comes as no surprise that those were his best opening rounds and his best subsequent finishes in this tournament.

    Day 1 is the most important day if Garcia is going to finally win a major. Dave Tindall of Sky Sports writes:

    The truth is, though, Garcia is a superb links player and a ninth place at Lytham in 2001 sparked a run of six Open top 10s in seven years which culminated in his agony at Carnoustie in 2007 when he lost in a play-off after missing an eight foot putt for glory on the 72nd hole… His last two starts show a second place in the Travelers Championship and a 12th in the BMW International Open in Germany.

    In short, Garcia’s chances hinge on Thursday and, at some level, even he must know this.


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    Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    Tee Times

    McIlroy: 4:26 a.m. ET

    Kaymer: 8:38 a.m. ET

    Rory McIlory has been a beauty on Thursdays and a beast on Fridays (and not the good kind of beast). Case in point was his performance at the Scottish Open. 

    He shot a first-round 64 then followed that with a 78 on Friday. So far as golfers to watch on Day 2 are concerned, he's undoubtedly the headliner. Will he put himself out in front on Thursday? Good chance of it. And if he does, he will go to bed that night knowing the whole world is waiting for him to meltdown on Friday.

    He's a Northern Ireland boy and a favorite in many circles and has never won the Open, but not if he can't fix his Fridays.

    As for Martin Kaymer, he came out blazing in the U.S. Open, winning that tournament wire-to-wire. If he gets out in front on Day 1, people will turn to him to see if he can sustain the momentum he garnered from Pinehurst. There's just one problem: He hasn't played well leading up to the Open Championship.

    Since winning the U.S. Open, he missed the cut at the BMW International Open and finished tied for 12th at the Alstom Open de France. 

    It could be a post-U.S. Open hangover that led to his recent hiccups, but he's essentially home now, playing on a course that should suit his style of play. Kaymer told The Daily Mail:

    I’ve never been to Hoylake and I don’t know the course. But for me, playing the Open always feels like I’m coming home. It’s real golf where you have to feel the course and play with all the conditions. Playing the Open is about playing the game of golf. It’s a mental battle and a fight. The fans really know golf. The Open week says so much about golf. It would be amazing to win it one day.

Tiger Woods

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    Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    Tee Time: 4:04 a.m. ET

    Alas, the perfunctory Tiger Woods slide (and somewhat contrary to the introduction to this slideshow). This one is a bit different. If it weren’t for his back injury and this being only the second tournament removed from surgery, he wouldn’t be worth the time (for the purposes of this article).

    No golfer has been more scrutinized (and for that matter until he retires) than Woods. The coverage of Woods will include everything short of an electromyogram to measure the electrical impulses along his spine.

    Every swing, like every swing during the 2008 U.S. Open when he won on a lame leg, will be monitored to see the slightest twinge in form. Woods has always been a bit dramatic when he swings through pain. He, like many others, generates so much torque that he can hardly be blamed for his physical revulsion at his body’s pain receptors.

    Day 1 for Woods is all about steadiness, staying in the fairways and silencing all the critics who say he won’t make the cut. He’s in a rare position in his career where people are doubting him in droves, not just because it’s fashionable, but because it’s actually reasonable.