British Open 2014: The Biggest Takeaways from Royal Liverpool
It looked very much like this was going to be another ho-hum, Martin Kaymer-like runaway victory for Rory McIlroy.
And while McIlroy became the seventh player to go wire-to-wire in winning The Open Championship (Tiger Woods did it last in 2005), it was far from an 18-hole lovefest between McIlroy and huge crowds at Royal Liverpool.
The young Northern Irishman had to work hard to hold off spirited charges by Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler, but, after a brief wobble in the middle of the round, he won by two strokes.
We learned that Fowler is on the verge of becoming a major champion, a young man whose game is getting better and better each time out.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson? They're at the other end of that spectrum.
Here's a list of five of the biggest takeaways from the 2014 British Open.
Royal Liverpool Defenseless
Like every other links course, a large part of Royal Liverpool's defense against the best players in the world are the winds that blow off the coast of England.
And when those winds don't blow, a place like the site of this year's Open Championship is going to get hammered.
Is Royal Liverpool the most difficult course on the British Open rota? Hardly. The two lowest scores shot by champions since 2001 have come at Royal Liverpool.
McIlroy's victory Sunday made him the beneficiary of favorable weather conditions twice. In 2011, McIlroy took Congressional Country Club apart, finishing 16 under par in winning his first major title.
Congressional had been soaked by rain and was very soft, allowing players to fire at pins without fear. McIlroy did it better than anyone else.
Rory McIlroy Is Very Good
Rory McIlroy knows about being good. After winning the Honda Classic in March of 2012, he held the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking six of the next 12 weeks and then again for the next 32 weeks.
The rarefied air of that spot got to be a bit much, and he's not been ranked close to the top since. McIlroy switched equipment companies, signed a major deal with Nike, broke from his old management company and formed his own management group and, of course, suffered through a public breakup with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
And guess what? After all of that, McIlroy is good again. He's had a really good season thus far, finishing in the top 10 in seven of 11 PGA Tour events. He's won the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW Championship, and he won his third major championship on Sunday.
McIlroy came into this week ranked eighth in the world and will move up to No. 2 behind Adam Scott when the rankings come out Monday.
Don't expect McIlroy to disappear again like he did in 2013. Expect him to become what many people thought he'd become in 2012: the face of professional golf.
Rickie Fowler Has Turned the Corner
Before we get too carried away with Rickie Fowler, let's remember the young man has yet to win a major championship.
Much has been expected of the Oklahoma State product since he turned pro in 2009. He's brought stylish and colorful fashion to the PGA Tour. He's an exciting player and has done as much as anyone to bring youngsters into the game.
But since January, when he became a pupil of one of the best teachers in the game, Butch Harmon, things have changed. In 2014, Fowler has finished fifth at the Masters, second at the U.S. Open and second at The Open Championship.
The young man has matured, Harmon has tightened his swing, and he now has a boatload of terrific major championship experience. He became one of only three players in British Open history to put up four rounds in the 60s and not win, per Paul Newberry of The Associated Press.
Many players have been tagged as "can't-miss," but it sure seems to fit with Fowler.
Rest of Tiger's 2014 Is Cloudy
Those who expected Tiger Woods to be a serious contender this weekend in The Open Championship were stuck in the time of his career where Woods did one miraculous thing after another.
And when Woods opened with a three-under-par 69, he gave those dreamers false hope. Those dreams, of course, were dashed with a 77 on Friday and a weekend of 73-75.
Woods is still in the process of knocking the rust off his game after missing four months due to back surgery and rehabilitation. It's obvious there's still plenty to knock off, especially with his driver, which he couldn't control throughout the four days at Royal Liverpool.
But Woods believes, as he always does, that he's not that far away.
“I was certainly expecting (rust), but I know how to play links golf, I know how to grind it out on these golf courses and hitting the shots I thought I could hit around here,” Woods said, via Ryan Lavner of the Golf Channel. “I did it the first day; after a bad start I got it back. But I just made too many mistakes.”
The best thing to come out of this weekend for Woods is he got to play two more rounds by making the cut. He has aspirations of playing well in the FedEx Cup playoffs and securing a captain's choice by Tom Watson for the Ryder Cup team.
Woods has a long way to go to reach those goals and, if he doesn't add any tournaments to his schedule, has a short time to make them happen.
Phil Mickelson's Inconsistencies Continue
If there's been one consistent part of Phil Mickelson's game in 2014, it's been his inconsistency.
Little can be predicted on the occasions Mickelson tees it up on the PGA Tour, and that's basically what he's accomplished this season: little.
He doesn't have a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this year and kept that streak going this weekend in The Open Championship when he finished 23rd at Royal Liverpool. His final-round 68 was a source of encouragement for him, as was finishing at five under par.
He's admitted his goal is to make the Ryder Cup, and even though he's ranked 12th on the points list, Mickelson believes he can make it on his own by earning an automatic bid by finishing in the top nine.
“If I play like I did this week at Akron and PGA, I’ll be fine,” Mickelson said, via Ryan Lavner of the Golf Channel. “I’ll be on it. But it would be beneficial for both me and Tom if I can do it on my own."
Based on how he's played this year, it will take a complete turnaround in his game to qualify on his own in the points standings.