2011 British Open: Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney and 11 Americans Who Could Win

Michael DixonAnalyst IIIJuly 12, 2011

2011 British Open: Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney and 11 Americans Who Could Win

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    We're less than a week away from having a British Open champion crowned.

    Despite the lack of a home-course advantage and general unfamiliarity with links golf, Americans have a decent history at the game's oldest major championship.

    Tom Watson has five Open championships, which is more than any American. Walter Hagen is one behind him, while Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods each have three British Opens to their name.

    Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer round out the Americans with multiple British Opens, as each have two to their names.

    Actually, America has as many wins at the British Open with 41, while they actually have more winners than any country, with 26 different champions.

    Recent years have told a different story though, as since 2005, the only American not named Tiger Woods to win the British Open was Stewart Cink in 2009.

    This year, chances look especially bad, as Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, the three most favored golfers, are all from that part of the world and would seemingly have a tremendous knowledge of the course and conditions.

    But recent years have just been unkind to the Americans at all of the major championships, including the three where they should have the home-course advantage.

    Phil Mickelson's 2010 Masters win was the last time that an American won a major. So, who can break that drought?

11. Phil Mickelson

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    World Ranking: 6

    Best British Open Finish: 2004, Third Place

    Finish at 2003 British Open: T59

    Honestly, this is a guy who is included here more because of what he's done in his career than anything else.

    For one, even in his best days, Mickelson's game never really fit the British Open. The lone exception to that was in 2004, when he missed a playoff with Ernie Els and eventual champion Todd Hamilton by one shot.

    The funny thing about that tournament is that Mickelson really should have won outright but ended missing out on even making the playoff because of all things; he played too cautious down the stretch.

    Since then, he's only notched one top-20 performance, which came in 2008. Aside from his 2004 performance, his best British Open was in 2000, when he was T11.

    Still, Mickelson's a name you will always have to respect. He's still one of the biggest names in the world, and although he hasn't enjoyed a lot of success for his standards since winning the Masters in 2010, he's still the sixth ranked golfer in the world.

10. Sean O'Hair

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    World Ranking: 110

    Best British Open Finish: 2010, T7

    Finish at 2003 British Open: DNP

    Sean O'Hair won the Quail Hollow Championship in 2009, but the last few years have not been especially kind to the guy once seen as one of golf's "next big things."

    Still, the British Open has been kind to O'Hair, who has never missed a cut there and has three top-15 performances.

    That's why O'Hair is here, as 2011 has been a down year.

    O'Hair has made only seven of 16 cuts and ranks in the top 50 in only one major statistic, eagles made.

    Even at that, he's only 41st in eagles and that's not exactly an indicator of a particularly consistent golfer.

    That will need to change if he is to keep his cuts made streak alive at the British Open, let alone win it.

    Still, stranger things have happened.

9. Jeff Overton

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    World Ranking: 58

    Best British Open Finish: 2010, T11

    Finish at 2003 British Open: DNP

    Jeff Overton is the only golfer on this list who's never won a professional tournament of any kind. Still, he gets the nod over Rickie Fowler (who is a few spots higher on the rankings and has also never won) because he's got a slightly deeper history at the British Open.

    Overton is three for three in cuts made at the British Open and has gotten better each time. In 2008, he was T70, in 2009, he was T13 and in 2010, he was T11.

    That shows that he does have a level of comfort playing the British style of golf, which is much different than what is seen in Indiana.

    Although he's not particularly great off of the tee or at finding greens in regulation, Overton's putting statistics are solid.

    He's certainly not the favorite at Royal St. George's, but Overton is a rising star in the game who can become one of the better American players of this generation.

8. Stewart Cink

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    World Ranking: 79

    Best British Open Finish: 2009, win

    Finish at 2003 British Open: T34

    While he's still finding ways to play the weekend, Stewart Cink has not been terribly successful since lifting the Claret Jug in 2009.

    Still, he's lifted the Claret Jug in his career, something that only one other player on this list has done. He's the most recent American to do that, and he did it in the same way that a lot of others have, he posted a number early and made the other golfers hold on to beat him.

    In 2009, Tom Watson couldn't beat Cink's number in regulation and then Cink posted one of the more unheralded, strong playoff performances that we have seen in recent years.

    Since 2000, Cink has been one of the best American players. His best days may be behind him, but it’s too early to dismiss him as a threat to win majors.

7. Hunter Mahan

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    World Ranking: 20

    Best British Open Finish: 2007, T6

    Finish at 2003 British Open: DNP

    While Hunter Mahan has proven that he can be one of the best putters in the world, he's also proven that he can be one of the biggest chokers in the world.

    Which one will show up? The answer to that question could well determine Mahan's chances at the British Open or anywhere.

    With seven top-10's in 2011, Mahan is a guy that will usually find himself at or near the top of the leader board.

    Mahan's putting statistics aren't bad, although his short game in general has left a lot to be desired.

    With three top-20 finishes in the British Open, Mahan has to be respected as a contender. The talent is there, it's just a matter of putting it all together.

6. Ben Curtis

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    World Ranking: 194

    Best British Open Finish: 2003, win

    Finish at 2003 British Open: win

    Ben Curtis won two events in 2006 but hasn't won anything since. In 2011, he's made the cut in less than half of the tournaments that he has played in.

    That goes a long way in explaining his unimposing world ranking of 194.

    But remember, the last time the British Open was at Royal St. George's was 2003. Then, Curtis was No. 396 in the world and still found a way to win.

    Considering that, it's really hard to think of him as being a guy who has no shot.

    Tiger Woods is the last person to win consecutive British Opens at one venue, winning in 2000 and 2005 at St. Andrews.

    Woods was playing great golf in those years, so it's really hard to think that history will repeat itself with Curtis, but he does have the type of game that sets up well at British Opens.

    Also consider that when Curtis makes the cut at the British Open, he's a factor. Curtis has missed the cut five of the eight times that he's played. But in the three times he's made the cut in that period, he's one once and finished T7 and T8 the other two times.

    He may be a long shot, but it's impossible to not at least include Curtis on a list like this.

5. Zach Johnson

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    World Ranking: 33

    Best British Open Finish: 2007, T20

    Finish at 2003 British Open: DNP

    We know Zach Johnson can putt, and we know that he can putt under the spotlight of a major championship.

    If he couldn't, Johnson would never have even been a serious contender at the 2007 Masters and certainly wouldn't have won.

    Johnson is one of the top putters on tour in 2011, that's no surprise, he always is.

    Considering that, it's a little surprising that his success at the British Open has been so limited.

    Lack of success at the other majors is a bit more understandable, as they tend to play to longer hitters, but the British Open doesn't have that track record.

    Still, Johnson's made the cut in every British Open since 2007.

    It's hard to imagine him winning in wire-to-wire fashion, but it's not hard to see him finishing a few groups ahead and then watch as others try to hold on.

4. Matt Kuchar

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    World Ranking: 7

    Best British Open Finish: 2010, T27

    Finish at 2003 British Open: DNP

    With the possible exceptions of Steve Stricker and Nick Watney, Kuchar has been the best American player since the fall of Tiger Woods.

    Kuchar is a solid putter, as we've seen and will continue to see, that's a big deal. A strong performance on putting greens can make up for a lot.

    While the past success at the British Open is really unimpressive, it shouldn't be analyzed too deeply.

    After being the Low Amateur at the Masters and US Open in 1998, Kuchar fell into virtual obscurity for most of the following decade, although he did win at the Honda Classic in 2002.

    The later part of the decade and the early parts of this one have been better to Kuchar, who has found a consistent game, making every PGA Tour cut in 2010, posting eight top-10 performances along the way.

3. Dustin Johnson

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    World Ranking: 12

    Best British Open Finish: 2010, T14

    Finish at 2003 British Open: DNP

    Dustin Johnson's history in majors is eerily similar to what Rory McIlroy had experienced before winning the US Open at Congressional.

    So, if McIlroy, a Northern Irishman, can put the past away in the USA, why can’t Johnson do that in Great Britain?

    Johnson will need to find consistency to win the British Open or any major for that matter.

    Currently he ranks on the third on the PGA Tour birdies per round but is only 50th in scoring average. 

    His putting statistics are below average at best.

    The game is there for Johnson, he's had a lot of good performances in majors in a relatively short period of time.

    His style of play may not be especially conducive to winning the British Open, but it's not something that can't happen.

2. Steve Stricker

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    World Ranking: 5

    Best British Open Finish: 2008, T7

    Finish at 2003 British Open: DNP

    Steve Stricker seems to be defying time on a weekly basis.

    He hasn't missed a cut on the PGA Tour since 2009 and has won at least two tournaments every year since 2009.

    Players don't tend to win the week before a major and then go on to win the following major. Phil Mickelson was the last to do that, when he won the BellSouth Classic and the Masters in 2006.

    That would suggest that both Stricker and Luke Donald could be in trouble, as Stricker won the John Deere Classic and Donald won the Scottish Open.

    Still, Stricker is almost always a factor, as he's finished in the top 25 in 10 of 12 PGA Tour events this year. Five of those were top-10 performances.

    At the British Open, anything can happen and frequently does. With his solid play and fantastic putting, it's hard to imagine Stricker not being there over the weekend.

1. Nick Watney

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    World Ranking: 10

    Best British Open Finish: 2010, T7

    Finish at 2003 British Open: DNP

    Whether it comes at the British Open or a subsequent major, Watney may well be the best overall bet to break the American drought.

    Watney's missed two cuts in 14 PGA Tour events this year. But of the 12 times he's made the cut, Watney's finished in the top 25 11 times, winning twice.

    He's a strong putter and has the lowest scoring average on tour this season. The better tour may be the European Tour, at least at the top, but the leading scorer on the PGA Tour should always be a good bet to win.

    The British Open has also been good to Watney, as he's three for three in cuts made. His best performance came in 2010, which was a T7.

    Watney seems to be on the brink of becoming a star. Before that happens, he needs to win a major. More than any American, Watney has a chance to have that happen here.