Rory, Rickie, Sergio and Dustin: What They Have to Do to Win the British Open

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2014

McIlroy needs to stay out of the hay on Sunday.
McIlroy needs to stay out of the hay on Sunday.Jon Super/Associated Press

Let's face it. Only four players have a realistic chance to win the British Open, and one seems like a lock: Rory McIlroy. The other threeRickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnsonalso have chances, but they will need a significant amount of help from McIlroy. 

McIlroy has what seems to be an insurmountable six-stroke lead, but six-stroke leads have been lost in majors championships by famous players in the past. Just ask Greg Norman or Arnold Palmer.

While many have already awarded McIlroy the trophy, he actually has to finish the final round with the lowest score before he can collect it. The rest of the field is six, seven, eight or nine strokes behind him. Unless McIlroy starts making bogey after bogey, for anyone to catch him would take more magic than is found in Harry Potter's wand and Ringo Starr's drumsticks. 

Mostly, to collect his first British Open, McIlroy has to not blow up. He can play Nick-Faldo-par-everything golf and most likely win. Worst case, pars should be good for a playoff. But playing safe golf is hard to do. 

It does seem like McIlroy is a lock because he has led since the tournament started. However, he has to maintain his concentration and keep his drives out of the hay for 18 holes.  

When McIlroy was in the fairway on Saturday, he was long and straight, as long as 335 yards on some holes with his driver. He just had the occasional snap, semi-hook. He can have a glitch or two, but not a steady diet of them if he wants the Claret Jug for the next 12 months. 

His playing companion, Fowler, has to play the golf of his life to win. Fowler will have to post a 64, 65 or 66 and get some timely bogeys from McIlroy.   

On Fowler's plus side, he's playing with the leader so he can see firsthand what's happening with the golfer most likely to find the winner's circle. Should McIlroy crack even a little, Fowler has to be ready to pounce. Hopefully, he will tone down the orange somewhat so as not to be this year's version of Garcia in yellow in 2006.  

Speaking of Garcia, he may be the most volatile of the top four players, emotionally. That can be good, as in his play at the Ryder Cup, and it can be detrimental.

Garcia is a brilliant ball-striker and is a short-game wizard, exactly what is needed for most major championship success. His albatross has been the putter, but with the slower links greens at Royal Liverpool and his renewed confidence, it is not impossible that Garcia could post a 64. He had a front-nine 32 on Saturday, and that is the harder nine with only one par five. Like Fowler, Garcia would need help from McIlroy with bogeys. 

Finally, Johnson.

How anyone who can hit the ball so far can fail to birdie par fives is anyone's guess. Johnson is probably as mystified as the rest of us. He has the power and skill to post a really, really, really low number. But something seems to hold him back. It has to be an intangible because it's not anything to do with common sense, looking at his ability and results, generally.

He's won at least once every year since turning pro in 2007, and he's had excellent chances in at least three major championships. He keeps having the one bad shot or the one bad decision or bad luck. Like Fowler and Garcia, Johnson would need help from McIlroy, but Johnson has an easier time of matching McIlroy in distance and in drives. 

In summary, logic tells us McIlroy will win the 2014 British Open. But it's golf, and we know these things have happened in the past:

Were any of those comebacks likely? Not a one of them but they all happened, and they are why nobody awards the trophy in a major championship until the tournament is done.     


Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour, R&A or PGA of America.