The last time the Open Championship was held at Royal St. George’s back in 2003, Ben Curtis shocked the world by winning the first major he ever attended.
Curtis was beyond a dark horse heading into the 2003 Open Championship. Aside from your most ardent golf fans, no one even know who Curtis was until Saturday rolled around at Royal St. George’s.
Royal St. George’s has produced some well-known Open winners over the years like Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor, Walter Hagen, Bobby Locke and Greg Norman.
But Royal St. George’s has also produced some surprise winners such as Reg Whitcombe in 1938, Bill Rogers in 1981 and of course, Curtis in 2003.
Perhaps Royal St. George’s has another surprise up her sleeve for the 151st Open Championship, and here are 12 dark horses that may just shock us all next week in Sandwich, England.
Padraig Harrington hasn't won on the European or PGA Tours since the 2008 PGA Championship and has posted only three top-10s this season.
In terms of the Open Championship, following his 2008 victory at Royal Birkdale, Harrington tied for 65th in 2009 and missed the cut last year at St. Andrews.
All in all, it would appear that Harrington is not exactly trending in the right direction heading into the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s.
However, Harrington was not trending in the right direction when he won the 2007 and 2008 Open Championships either.
Since 1983, only Tiger Woods and Harrington have managed to win more than one Open Championship, and Harrington’s two Open wins came at arguably the two toughest courses on the Open Championship rota: Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale.
Woods will not be in the field next week, so aside from Tom Watson, no one at Royal St. George’s next week will know more about winning Open Championships than Harrington.
Sergio Garcia has not been the same player since losing the 2007 Open Championship to Padraig Harrington in a playoff, and then letting Harrington get the best of him again at the 2008 PGA Championship.
He has struggled with some off-the-course relationship issues and has questioned his desire to continue playing professional golf.
At the end of the 2010 season, Garcia took a three-month vacation from the game, and his time away seems to have recharged the 31-year-old Spaniard’s batteries.
Garcia has 10 top-25 finishes in 13 events this year and two top-10s in his last two events including a T-7 at the U.S. Open and playoff loss at the BMW International Open.
Out of all the majors, Garcia has performed best at the Open Championship throughout his career. He has six top-10 finishes in his last 11 Open Championship starts, including a T-14 last year when his game—and mind for that matter—was completely in shambles.
Garcia is still one of the best ball-strikers on the planet, and links golf is as much about accuracy and placement as anything else, which is why Garcia can never be completely ruled out as a potential Open Championship contender.
Ross Fisher has finished within the top 40 at each of the last three Open Championships and tied for fifth at the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage, which due to the torrential rains, played more like an Open Championship than a U.S. Open.
After a fairly slow year in 2010, Fisher is trending upwards so far in 2011. He tied for 15th at the 2011 Masters and has two top-10s in his last two events including a T-9 at the BMW Championship.
Fisher is similar to Harrington in that you tend to forget about him until his name pops up on a major championship leaderboard.
After a streak of four missed cuts earlier in the year, Hanson has strung together four consecutive top-20 finishes, including a T-7 at the U.S. Open.
Hanson has finished within the top 40 at each of the last two Opens and won twice on the European Tour last year.
Although a win by Hanson at the 2011 Open Championship would come as a shock to most American golf fans, Europeans may actually be expecting a big win from Hanson. He has finished within the top 20 on the European Tour Order of Merit in each of the last four seasons.
Robert Karlsson seems to have figured out how to play links golf over the past two years. He tied for seventh at the 2009 Open Championship and tied for 14th last year at St. Andrews.
Karlsson also has a hot hand heading into the event with two top-five finishes in his last four events including a playoff loss to Harisson Frazar at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
The last mainland European to win an Open Championship was Seve Ballesteros in 1988.
Karlsson, who hails from Sweden, may just shock everyone and break that 22-year winless streak next week at Royal St. George’s.
Not sure if Matteo Manassero can really be considered an underdog anymore these days, but the 18-year-old Italian has a legitimate chance to win the 151st Open Championship.
Manassero has made the cut in every major he has attended, and tied for 13th at the 2009 Open Championship.
Manassero is often compared to a young Seve Ballesteros, although his style of play and personality are far less bold than Ballesteros’.
If Manassero were to win the 151st Open Championship, he would be two years younger than Ballesteros was when he won his first major at the 1979 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Henrik Stenson has not had the best run since winning the 2009 Players Championship and has recently dropped to No. 118 in the World Golf Rankings.
After five missed cuts in six events, Stenson finally looks as if he’s on the verge of turning things around. In his last two starts, he tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open and tied for ninth at the BMW International Open.
Stenson also has two T-3 finishes in his last three Open Championships, including the T-3 he managed last year at St. Andrews while right in the heart of his slump.
Stenson is still a world-class player when he is on, and he seems to know how to play the Open Championship better than any of the other three majors.
Jeff Overton has played in three Open Championships and made the cut in all three.
He has also been trending in the right direction at the Open with a T-70 in his first appearance, a T-13 in his second appearance and a T-11 last year at St. Andrews.
Although he has yet to post a top-10 in a major, Overton hasn’t missed the cut at a major either.
After a strong 2010 season which earned him a spot on the American Ryder Cup team, Overton has managed only two top-10 finishes this year. However, his most recent top-10 came just last week where he tied for third at the AT&T National.
Overton’s length will provide an advantage next week at Royal St. George’s, particularly if conditions get cold and damp.
Robert Rock tied for seventh at last year’s Open Championship and just tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open without even playing a practice round due to some visa issues that delayed his trip to America.
Rock won the BMW Italian Open this past June and must be just oozing with confidence heading into the 2011 Open Championship.
If you don’t know who Robert Rock is, just look for the guy without a hat at Royal St. George’s.
However, if he somehow manages to win the Open Championship, you can be assured that he will be sporting some kind of hat the following week, right after a large endorsement check has been deposited into his bank account.
Alvaro Quiros may be known as a bomber more than anything else, but the guy can flat-out play.
At the young age of 28, Quiros has already won five times on the European Tour with his most recent win coming at the 2011 Dubai Desert Classic, which contained a major championship-caliber field.
Quiros also tied for 11th at the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews.
Like Overton, Quiros is a bomber of the ball and will have a marked advantage if the weather turns south next week in Sandwich, England.
Bo Van Pelt’s best finish at an Open Championship was a tie for 30th back in 2004, but Van Pelt has been trending upwards at the majors over the past two years.
He tied for 28th at the 2010 PGA Championship, tied for 8th at the 2011 Masters and tied for 14th at the U.S. Open just a few weeks ago.
Van Pelt also just tied for 11th last week at the AT&T National.
He may not be a household name, but Van Pelt has been playing some excellent golf for nearly two years now, and may just surprise us all by breaking through to win a major in the near future.
Retief Goosen has been all but forgotten about when it comes to potential major championship contenders, but at the age of 42, he may have just enough fuel left in the tank to pull off one more big-time win.
Goosen has quietly posted two top-10s in his last two Open Championship appearances and tied for 10th the last time the Open Championship was held at Royal St. George’s back in 2003.
He also just tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open and has two T-3s in his last three events worldwide.
Goosen’s putter will be the big question next week at Royal St. George’s, but clearly this guy still knows how to play Open Championship golf.
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