Unlike the first two Grand Slam events on the PGA Tour calendar, which were won by at least three strokes, the 2014 British Open promises to be a much tighter affair because of the opportunities for low scores at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
The last time the British Open was played on this course, Tiger Woods brought it to its knees with an 18-under-par score to secure his third Claret Jug. That was also the most recent time Tiger won this event.
With Tiger still working his way back from back surgery and no clear favorite in the field, this year's tournament figures to be one of the most competitive since Ernie Els defeated Adam Scott by one stroke in 2012.
All the buzz from across the pond is palpable, so let's not waste any more time leading up to it. We've got all the information you need to follow the leaderboard and watch the event on television.
Where: Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England
When: Thursday, July 17 at 4 a.m. ET
Watch: ESPN (coverage starts at 4 a.m. ET)
Live Updating Leaderboard
Tiger Woods' Grand Slam Return
It's amazing how different Grand Slam events feel when Tiger is part of them, even though he hasn't won one since 2008.
He missed the Masters and the U.S. Open after having back surgery earlier this year, which led to fan disinterest. According to Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead, the 2014 Masters did an all-time low television rating for a non-Easter Sunday.
Whether or not he's winning tournaments, Tiger's presence alone draws huge interest to the sport. Having him return to the grand stage three weeks after making his actual PGA Tour return is huge for everyone involved.
Tiger is certainly not lacking in confidence prior to the event, telling reporters that winning after injuries is something he's done many times before.
"I’ve proven I can do it, it’s just a matter of putting my game and giving myself the best chances this week to miss the ball in the correct spots, to be aggressive when I can, and obviously to hole putts," Woods said, via Ewan Murray of The Guardian. "That’s a recipe you find for every major championship, but I’ve just got to do it this week."
While a victory seems like a long shot given his recent track record, as long as Tiger is playing on the weekend, there will be a lot to discuss. Being on the Sunday leaderboard would be icing on the cake.
We know Tiger will be around for the next two days, which turns this already important event into must-see television.
Which Rory McIlroy Will Show Up?
The story for Rory McIlroy over the last three years has been when he will take that next step to become more than just a really good golfer. We know based on past results he has the talent to be a dominating figure in the sport.
At just 25 years old, McIlroy isn't facing his own mortality on the course anytime soon. It would, however, be nice to see the two-time Grand Slam winner find some semblance of consistency on the course.
It's not just that he shoots under par one round and over par the next. He's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from day to day. Last week at the Scottish Open, McIlroy set a course record with a 64 in the first round and then shot a seven-over 78 in the second round.
That course record was broken on Sunday by Felipe Aguilar, who shot a 63 to finish four under par.
Justin Ray of the Golf Channel had a great McIlroy stat following the third round of last week's Scottish Open:
Rory McIlroy in official worldwide starts this season: +9 in 2nd Round. 93-under in rounds 1, 3 and 4. 102-shot difference to par.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) July 12, 2014
Which top player do you want to see win the British Open?
The British Open has been one of McIlroy's worst Grand Slam events in recent years. He finished tied for 25th and 60th in 2011 and 2012 before missing the cut in 2013. He went from an eighth-place tie at Augusta this year to tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open.
If both those patterns hold this time around, McIlroy will either be sitting near the bottom of the leaderboard at Royal Liverpool or taking an early flight home on Friday after missing the cut.
There's also the chance that he plays out of his mind this weekend, which has happened at various points this year. Trying to make an accurate prediction for McIlroy is futile at this juncture. All we know about him is that consistency isn't in his wheelhouse.
Will Phil Mickelson Repeat?
Lost in the shuffle of Tiger's return and McIlroy's quest for consistency is Phil Mickelson's journey to repeat as British Open champion. Lefty didn't bring Muirfield to its knees last year, but he did fire an impressive 66 in the final round to win his first Claret Jug.
Mickelson, like McIlroy, has been dealing with inconsistency this season. He missed the cut at the Masters and finished 28th at the U.S. Open, but he has played better lately, with 11th-place finishes at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and the Scottish Open.
The five-time major champion isn't getting a lot of love leading up to the British Open. Alan Shipnuck of Sports Illustrated was part of an expert panel asked by Golf.com about the chances for Mickelson and Tiger this weekend.
"Their games are miles away," Shipnuck said. "It's far more likely that they'll both miss the cut than that either one will contend."
Following along those same lines, Michael Collins of ESPN.com didn't list Mickelson among the top 25 contenders at the British Open.
Given where his game is at now, as well as his recent performances in Grand Slam events, there's no evidence to suggest that Mickelson will make it back-to-back Open titles.
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