With relatively benign and sunny conditions, low scores characterized the opening groups of the 2014 British Open. While the event's infamously fickle weather figures to exact its revenge at some point over the next three days, golfers enjoyed the rare opportunity to attack at Royal Liverpool.
Without blustery weather as defense, though, Hoylake's straightforward course layout is ripe for the picking. For those seeking to track the top of the leaderboard as it changes throughout the day, check out the widget with automatic real-time updates below:
So, which golfers have impressed the most so far? Though everyone is still far from the finish line, a few of the most intriguing pre-tournament favorites have fulfilled expectations and established themselves as legitimate threats to hoist the Claret Jug.
Fowler may be one of the PGA Tour's most popular players, but he has yet to establish himself as a considerable threat at every major. Though he may not have received much pre-tournament buzz, his performance in the majors this year has been unparalleled, even without a victory:
Fowler began the round in top-notch form, recording birdies on the fourth and fifth holes en route to a front-nine score of three-under (32). Without a bogey in his round so far, Fowler's clean scorecard remains impressive even with some aid from the weather.
Apart from a fifth-place finish at Royal St. George's in 2011, Fowler has not had much success at the British Open, including a missed cut last year. But with an eighth-place finish in the Scottish Open last week, Fowler proved he could play with the best in the world on a links golf course.
Few saw the 25-year-old as a legitimate threat to win this weekend. But Fowler's recent track record suggests that a breakthrough is imminent, whether or not it arrives at this tournament.
Playing in the same group as Fowler, Garcia seemed to feed off his playing partner's success throughout the round. In spite of a head-scratching bogey on the par-five 10th, the Spaniard is in good position to capture that elusive first major based on his playing form:
Garcia's game has really rounded into form in recent weeks, with three top-five finishes in his five most recent PGA Tour starts. That included a runner-up finish at the Travelers Championship two weeks ago and a third-place finish at The Players Championship in May.
The 34-year-old has struggled in majors this year, however, with a 35th-place finish at the U.S. Open and a missed cut at Augusta. In fact, Garcia has had just one top-10 finish in his last 10 major starts (2013 Masters), while he has failed to reach the weekend three separate times in that span.
But Sergio's recent momentum has usurped his struggles of 2013. If Garcia exhibits the same control as he has thus far, expect him to remain a viable contender to the end.
Arguably the tour's most talented golfer, McIlroy is the favorite to win so long as he remains under control for 72 holes. With a hot start that saw him at three under par through the first six holes, McIlroy served notice that his game is rounding into form.
Of course, no one truly doubts McIlroy's talent. However, the 25-year-old has experienced a maddening trend of second-round collapses this year. A second-round 78 at last week's Scottish Open derailed what otherwise could have been a winning effort. It appears that recent malaise is the only barrier to McIlroy this week:
If Rory can avoid his Friday Fiasco he will be seriously tough to beat. Seriously.— Tony Johnstone (@TonyJohnstone56) July 17, 2014
Which of these golfers will end up with the highest finish?
Even in spite of his Friday self-sabotages, McIlroy has notched top-10 finishes in five of his eight PGA Tour starts since February. In addition, his come-from-behind victory at the BMW PGA Championship, the premier event on the European Tour, was one of the most exciting moments of the 2014 golf season.
Without a PGA Tour victory, though, McIlroy's campaign cannot truly be considered successful. A third major championship, however, would vault him back into contention for the No. 1 ranking in the world.