For those who set an alarm for 3:30 a.m. ET or merely decided to stock up on energy drinks and stay up the entire night, the 2014 Open Championship experience is already hours long. For those who prioritized a normal sleep schedule over golf, though, it's time to ramp up excitement.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and plenty of other notables are already well into their first 18 holes at Merseyside. The world's best golfers have been met with a Royal Liverpool course completely revamped from the last time players came here in 2006. The revamped course is harder, showing much more teeth than when Tiger Woods tamed it en route to a two-shot win in one of the easiest Open Championships in history.
This? This is far from easy. Or at least much more difficult than the memories I have in my head of Chris DiMarco going for the jugular.
We live in an almost bloodthirsty golf culture at the moment. The "Tiger-proofing" of courses has evolved into this weird requirement of every major being the hardest thing since the last hard thing you saw. Only Augusta somehow avoids these pitfalls. The U.S. Open makes sport of making world-class athletes look like you and I on the range. The PGA Championship is headed that way. The Open Championship, always daunting and unique in structure, has become a test of wills.
I've yet to come to a determination on whether that's good or bad for the sport. All I know is that it's entertaining enough for now. Let's quickly then take a look at what to expect from the late-morning and afternoon rounds at Royal Liverpool.
2014 Open Championship Info
When: Thursday, July 17, through Sunday, July 20
Where: Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake in Merseyside, England
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit TheOpen.com.
Winner's Share: $1,660,000
FedEx Cup Points: 600
Day 1 Afternoon Storylines/Predictions
So...What About the World's Top-Ranked Golfer?
Seeing the No. 1 golfer in the world going into a major championship with only the scantest of mentions is an interesting phenomenon. Despite being the most consistent contender on the world level arguably for two years now, Adam Scott remains tertiary behind the handwringing going on at the expense of McIlroy and Woods.
Scott is scheduled to tee off at 9:27 a.m. ET, alongside Justin Rose and Jason Dufner. It should be one of the more competitive weekday groups of the week. Rose is coming off consecutive victories at the Quicken Loans National and Scottish Open. Dufner is desperately looking to bounce back from the opposite end of the spectrum—a back-to-back cut streak in PGA Tour events.
Scott, meanwhile, has unfinished Open Championship business. His 2012 collapse at Royal Lytham seemingly confirmed his future as the next great who could never win the big one. Then Scott turned the narrative on its head at the 2013 Masters, scored top-five finishes at The Open Championship and PGA Championship to close the year and ascended to No. 1.
Two years removed from his collapse, Scott is determined to finally get over the hump across the pond.
I’m playing some of my best golf at the moment and I don’t know how long that’s going to last. So I’ve got to try and take advantage of that and win all the events that I’d really love to win, and this is certainly one of them. I’ve given myself a couple of opportunities and haven’t done it. I think maybe the third time you have to do it or it might not come back around.
The last time The Open Championship came to Merseyside, the then-unheralded Scott finished in a tie for eighth. Even though the course adjustments make it a different ballgame, the layout engenders itself to Scott's ball striking and brilliant putting.
Woods and McIlroy can have their headlines. Scott is my pick to actually come away with the Claret Jug.
What About Lefty?
At this time last year, Phil Mickelson was playing his best golf in at least a year. His Scottish Open win capped off a rocky start to 2013, wherein he at once looked primed for a late-career renaissance and a total collapse. The "is he done?" narrative was hanging around before Phil made the trip to Scotland, and then in a wild two-week bonanza he'd come away with his first two wins outside the United States in four years.
The results since have not been so kind.
Mickelson has not won another event since his comeback 66 gave him his first Claret Jug. The 2014 season has seen Lefty score a top-10 finish in a PGA Tour event as many times as you or I. He was cut at the Masters. And The Players Championship. And two more events with much less national prominence.
Mickelson currently ranks 97th in the FedEx Cup standings. Ninety-seventh! I'll be honest, I probably couldn't pick William McGirt out of a police lineup, but I can tell you he's performed better than Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour this season.
When the age odometer cranks up past 40, these struggles are no longer considered momentary blips. They could be the sign of a serious downturn. Remember, those aforementioned two weeks aside, Mickelson was highly variant in 2013. For his part, the always-positive Lefty tried to spin his season forward when talking with reporters this week:
Well, it obviously hasn't been a good year. Normally I would be discouraged or frustrated, but I'm just not. I feel like I've had some good breakthroughs in some areas. I haven't had the results, I know I haven't played well. But the parts feel a lot better than the whole right now. And I don't know when it will all click together. I don't know if it will be this week. I don't know if it will be in three weeks or a month or what, but it should be soon.
"Soon" may not come this week. Mickelson has more than earned a certain level of leeway here, but we're nearing 11 months since he's been a serious contender at an event. His last top-10 finish was at last year's Barclays in August. Although 11th-place finishes in the St. Jude Classic and Scottish Open are better than what his other recent performances were, we're grasping at straws.
Mickelson can't be counted out. That much is certain. We're just fooling ourselves if we think it's less likely he misses the cut than wins.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.