The 2014 British Open marks the return of Tiger Woods to major championship competition. Although he usually assumes the role of favorite, his lackluster performance upon returning at the Quicken Loans National leaves the field without a clear player to beat.
In fact, since no player has been dominant in recent months and all of the top contenders have question marks, the Open Championship is truly wide open. It should make for a very interesting week at the storied Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
The lack of certainty heading into play also leaves the door open for somebody from Foff the radar to win the coveted title. That said, let's take a look at the oddsmakers' top choices along with some predictions for the most notable fan favorites.
Open Championship Favorites
Odds via Odds Shark; All Other Players 33-1 or Higher
Predictions for Biggest Names
Woods missed the first two majors of the season while recovering from a back injury. Though his absence does nothing to discredit the triumphs by Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, the events certainly didn't have the same feel without him.
As mentioned, he returned a couple weeks ago at Congressional Country Club and proceeded to miss the cut. Yet, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post passed along comments from the 14-time major champion, who was pleased with his body's response:
That's one of the reasons why playing Congressional was such a big moment for me in that regard because I didn't have any setbacks. I could go at it that hard. I could play out of the rough. I could hit shots. I could go out as hard as I wanted to, and I didn't feel any of the pain going down my leg like I did before, and I was able to recover each and every day. I think that's the key: I was able to recover.
In terms of Woods' long-term outlook, that's great news. He was clearly dealing with pain since the second half of last season. Getting back to a point where he can play a round and then recover to feel full strength by the next day is progress.
It won't necessarily help him this week, though. Given the lack of competitive rounds under his belt since returning, it's hard to imagine him winning the Claret Jug. He should take another step in the right direction by making the cut, but contention will probably have to wait until the PGA Championship.
Prediction: 25th place
The biggest problem for McIlroy continues to be consistency. Twice in his past four tournaments he's endured huge drop-offs over the first two rounds. He went from 63 to 78 at the Memorial followed by a 64 to 78 at the Scottish Open.
Which of these stars will have the best Open finish?
There's no doubt he's one of the most talented players on the course every time he tees it up. Alas, those types of wild swings in productivity make it difficult to win. That's especially true on a course like Royal Liverpool, where there are plenty of chances to see a round get away.
Aside from that 78, McIlroy did play well at the Scottish Open with three rounds of 68 or better. So if he can focus on eliminating that one tournament-killing round, even if it means just turning it into an average performance to remain in the mix, he'll have a chance.
Of course, the biggest test will come should he have a strong opening round. If he can back it up with another one, he becomes one of the favorites. It's hard to count on that happening, however, which likely leaves him in the same group as Woods.
Prediction: 30th place
Last year, Mickelson used an outstanding final round to win his first Open Championship and fifth career major title. As other players struggled to harness a tricky test at Muirfield, he was able to make it look easy, which is typical when he's in top form.
His numbers this season don't suggest a repeat performance is in the cards. He hasn't won a tournament and his only top-10 came in Abu Dhabi all the way back in January. ESPN Stats and Information provides a key reason for those struggles:
Looking for the cause of his woes? Look no further than the putter–he's struggling on short putts again, an area where he had improved over the past few years. He’s currently tied for 108th on the PGA Tour in 1-putt percentage inside 10 feet.
Those putting issues will be costly if Royal Liverpool plays similar to the way it did last time the British Open was held there. Woods won with a score of minus-18, which means players won't be able to squander any birdie looks.
Mickelson did have an encouraging final-round 65 in the Scottish Open. He also has a pair of top-two finishes in the event over his last three starts. So it wouldn't be a surprise to see him contend, but a repeat victory is probably too much to ask.
Prediction: 10th place