This week’s British Open is really open. Big names are stacked up like a sandwich to take this title at Royal St. George’s. Some of the youngest players in the field even have a fair chance of winning, while other youngsters could make some noise this week.
Seung-Yul Noh, 20 years old
He became the second-youngest winner on the European Tour—behind Danny Lee—when he won the Maybank Malaysian Open. His chances of becoming the second Asian major winner depend on the wind in Sandwich.
Last year at St. Andrews, the South Korean missed the cut, but this is a guy who means business in Europe. He’s taking English lessons on his iPhone when he’s not hitting balls. Nobody saw Y.E Yang taking the trophy at the US PGA Championship in 2009, just as nobody saw Ben Curtis coming on Royal St. George’s in ’03, so never say never.
Noh started his golf career by hitting balls on the beach near his house in South Korea, just like Ballesteros, and he knows it takes something special to break through. He has a fair chance of ending in the top 30, but higher than that would be a real surprise.
Ryo Ishikawa, 19 years old
The Bashful Prince of Japan broke 70 once last year at St. Andrews and finished tied for 27. Ishikawa broke through when he won a regular professional event on the Japan Tour at the age of 15.
Now he has six wins on the Japan Tour, where he also shot 59 last year, and was the youngest player ever to climb into the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings. This will be his third Open championship. Bets are it will be his best if the weather is calm.
Asian players don’t do well in the strong European wind (yet), but given good conditions, Ishikawa can better his result from last year.
Rickie Fowler, 22 years old
Fowler became last year’s Rookie of the Year on the PGA Tour over some Irish kid and also got himself a Captain’s Pick in the Ryder Cup. Fowler is maybe a bit overrated and has yet to win his first tournament, but he has made the cut in all four majors over the last three years and ended on a spot tied for 14th last year at St. Andrews.
Again, the weather will decide how Fowler will do. Rain is no problem, but too much wind could cause problems for the long hitter from Jupiter, Florida, even though the rough is not as dangerous at Royal St. George’s this time around.
Thorbjorn Olesen, 21 years old
Olesen had a four foot putt two weeks ago in Paris to force Thomas Levet out in a playoff at Open de France, and he shot 66 in the first round of the Scottish Open last week. Victory is too much to ask for from this European Tour rookie, but he has tied for second three times this season already.
The Dane possesses a solid swing that holds up well in any kind of weather this week, and he is used to the Scottish conditions. Olesen could do very well, regardless of wind, heat or rain.
Matteo Manassero, 18 years old
Pronto! This guy could not only do well this week. He can actually win! Already a winner twice on the European Tour, this Italian teenager is the next hottest young golf player in the world right now.
In 2010, Manassero became the youngest player ever to make the cut at the Masters Tournament, at 16 years, 11 months and 22 days. The year before, he came in 13th in the Open, but did not play last year. He did not play last week in the Scottish Open, but every part of his game is strong and stable, and he has finished in the top 10 six times in 11 tournaments this year.
Rory McIlroy, 22 years old
This Irish lad won the US Open on 16-under-par in June, which was eight shots in front of the field, and became the youngest winner since Bobby Jones in 1923. Last year he was tied for third in the Open at St. Andrews.
McIlroy already has six top 15’s in the majors and five top 10’s. Actually he has not been outside top 15 in a major since last year’s Open. (The Open T3, US PGA T3, Masters T15, US Open 1).
It’s hard not to tip McIlroy among the contenders on Sunday.