All eyes will be on Tiger Woods as he makes his 2014 major debut at The Open Championship beginning Thursday. But Woods is not considered chief among the odds-on favorites at 16-1—despite the fact that he won the British Open the last time it was contested at Hoylake in 2006.
According to Odds Shark, homeland hopeful Rory McIlroy is listed as the 10-1 favorite at Royal Liverpool. That is well ahead of a capable trio at 14-1, which features world No. 1 Adam Scott, reigning FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson and recent U.S. Open winner Martin Kaymer.
Let's take a closer look at the four world-class players deemed most capable of raising the Claret Jug come Sunday.
Rory McIlroy (10-1)
The best finish McIlroy has ever had at The Open Championship came in 2010 at St. Andrews, a venue known for yielding more birdies than most others on the rotation. However, McIlroy also shot a second-round 80 there in his tie for third, which is eerily similar to the struggles he's endured this season.
Case in point: Last week at the Scottish Open, McIlroy led after a brilliant first round and then regressed to a 78 in Round 2. Although he played the weekend well enough to tie for 14th, it was still shy of the results a talent like McIlroy is capable of producing.
Golf Channel's Justin Ray has the grim statistic that's prevented McIlroy from achieving more recently, tying it to what hurt him in the 2010 Open:
McIlroy emphasized that he's taking an all-business approach rooted in passion to Hoylake, per CNN.com's Chris Murphy:
I've sort of fallen in love with golf again. [...] Golf is my first passion and my first love and it's great to be able to spend days playing and remember where you started again, remembering those rounds at Holywood Golf Club. [...] Just remembering the love and the joy you have for the game. I feel like I've found that out these last few weeks.
As long as McIlroy can avoid the second-round blues, he just may have a chance at hoisting the Claret Jug. Given how just one round has been his undoing in so many tournaments, he has a great shot at victory if his putter gets hot and he can minimize his mistakes.
There's some pressure on him to break through after not winning any majors and struggling throughout 2013. A victory at the European Tour's flagship event in the BMW PGA Championship is a recent result McIlroy can draw confidence from.
Notching the third leg of the career Grand Slam at age 25 would be quite an achievement for McIlroy. It would eradicate many doubts about his consistency and perhaps even catapult him to another level, although he's still years away from his true prime.
Adam Scott (14-1)
The Australian has come into his own, justifying his spot atop the world rankings with a win at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial followed by a tie for fourth at the Memorial and a joint seventh at the U.S. Open.
Scott is an impeccable ball-striker whose game translates well to Hoylake, especially if birdies are the name of the game, as they were when Woods won at 18 under par in 2006. That hinges on Scott's putting, though—always the weakest part of his game.
Whenever he's rolling the rock right and clicking from tee to green, almost no one can match Scott's best brand of golf.
After blowing a four-stroke lead with four holes to play at the 2012 Open Championship, Scott rebounded. Not only did he win the next Masters, but he was also in the hunt for the Claret Jug at Muirfield last year. He wound up putting his way out of the championship, but he still finished in third place.
In strokes gained putting on the PGA Tour, Scott hadn't ranked in the top 100 until this season. Now, he stands at 15th. That could make a big difference this week—perhaps it's just what Scott needs to do a bit better and emerge as the Champion Golfer of the Year.
Martin Kaymer (14-1)
This has more to do with Kaymer's recent success at majors than anything else. Well, that and maybe the fact that he's been ranked No. 1 before and has nine regular European Tour victories and the 2010 PGA Championship to his name.
Even with a modest Open Championship record, Kaymer does enjoy the links brand of golf Royal Liverpool fosters, per Golf Central:
A tie for 12th at the Alstom Open de France had Kaymer back in form after missing the cut at the BMW International Open—though it is worth noting the German's regression in the final round, per Golf Digest's Brendan Mohler:
Those are forgivable letdowns considering Kaymer's dominance at Pinehurst No. 2 and how hard he battled to get back to emulating his 2010 self.
Kaymer had been one of the most overlooked former top-ranked players until this year, when he pulled off the unprecedented feat of winning The Players Championship and the U.S. Open, the latter by seven strokes.
It seems almost unfathomable—with no disrespect to Kaymer's immense skill—that he could get it done at Hoylake. If he does, three career majors before the age of 30 would all but cement Kaymer's spot in the Hall of Fame.
Henrik Stenson (14-1)
On even more of a torrid pace than Scott as of late is Stenson. The powerful Swede can stripe it just as well as Scott, and he's had four top-seven finishes in as many starts.
Being paired alongside Woods and another multiple major winner in Angel Cabrera for the first 36 holes should be a source of inspiration for Stenson too.
The worst finish Stenson has had in his past six majors is a tie for 21st. There's a reason he won the Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup last season. That included a runner-up finish at The Open Championship, where only Phil Mickelson's phenomenal final round could outdo him.
All that is missing from this man's resume is a major title. Stenson's raw strength and experience with links golf overseas allow him to pierce the wind with the crispness and quality of his pure irons.
As is the case with both McIlroy and Scott, it all comes down to whether Stenson can get the flat iron to behave.
For someone who has endured so many peaks and valleys throughout his exceptional career, Stenson is finally showing signs that he can consistently contend for majors. Don't be surprised if this is the week he capitalizes on that promise and gets a long-awaited breakthrough.
Stenson is better equipped to handle the fluctuating results than McIlroy, whose own ability to bounce back has been impressive and would be on display again if he were to win. Scott also endured a stretch of lackluster play, as did Kaymer amid his swing changes.
All four of these favorites have some idea of what it's like to be the hottest name in the game and then see it all slip away for a certain span. That should help them live up to the hype as favorites, capitalize on a course that rewards those with the best combinations of power and precision, and create a compelling Open Championship as a result.