British Open 2012: 5 Players to Watch Heading into the Open Championship

Brooke Jordan@DJ_BJ08Correspondent IJuly 7, 2012

British Open 2012: 5 Players to Watch Heading into the Open Championship

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    After a down-to-the-wire finish at the 2012 U.S. Open, many golf fans are looking forward to the next PGA major, the British Open.

    Several stars have begun to rise on the greens, and many veterans have showed they are still competitive. Yet others have shown they may be beginning to fall.

    Even though the Open Championship is a couple of weeks away, here are five players to keep an eye out for as contenders heading into the tournament at Royal Lytham.

Graeme McDowell

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    Despite faltering down the stretch at the U.S. Open, Graeme McDowell did manage to salvage an impressive second-place finish, and overall, has looked pretty solid this season.

    On the European Tour, he has had five top-20 finishes, including two in the top 10, this year. For the PGA Tour, McDowell has had six top-20 finishes with four of them coming in the top 10.

    The 32-year-old from Northern Ireland is seeking his first major win, and by the way he has played so far this season, it looks like this could be the year.

    He has had great success at the Open Championship before, and look for him to build off this. McDowell does not get ruffled very easily, so he is very capable of bouncing back from his stumble at the Olympic Club and keeping pace at the top at Royal Lytham until the end.

Lee Westwood

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    Despite his fallout in the U.S. Open, Lee Westwood is still dominating the competition.

    He has six top-10 finishes in 2012, including a third-place finish at the Masters, on the PGA Tour. On the European Tour, he has 22 career wins, which is ninth all-time, and four top-10 finishes this year, including one win.

    Westwood is arguably one of the best players on the tour to not have a major victory under his belt. He has been so close so many times, and this year's British Open is certainly his opportunity to break through.

    With his home country crowd behind him and his confidence growing, Westwood will come out with a forceful swing and show why his name will be near the top of the leaderboard all weekend.

Tiger Woods

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    This has been a very up-and-down year for Tiger Woods.

    One week, he is in until the end, and the next week, his name is at the bottom of the leaderboard. This past week is a very good example. Woods took home the victory at Congressional and then missed the cut at Greenbrier five days later.

    This has been Tiger's pattern all year. He wins a PGA Tour event, and then finishes low or fails to make the cut the following week.

    Woods has won more events than anyone else on tour this year, but he has also played arguably some of his worst golf in his career. The key to his success will be how quickly he can adjust to the Royal Lytham greens and how fast he can get to the top. Golf fans know of his past success in England.

    So, if Woods' theory proves true, then look for him to be either on top or near the top of the leaderboard at the Open Championship.

Hunter Mahan

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    Despite his two PGA wins and four top-10 finishes this year, Hunter Mahan has been relatively quiet.

    Mahan has only missed one cut and has been in contention for many tournaments. He usually gets out to a fast start and then seems to fade on Saturday and Sunday.

    He seems to be driving the ball with authority and putting with great precision. He will certainly need to use these skills to his advantage when he navigates the greens at Royal Lytham.

    Mahan is a young, talented golfer, who seems to have found his stride. The 30-year-old Texas native has proven he is a force to contend with and ready to make the next step to win a championship.

    If the young, rising star can maintain his fast and solid play for all four rounds, look for Mahan to be right in the thick of things on Sunday.

Luke Donald

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    Many would say Luke Donald has had a very disappointing season so far.

    In 2012, he only has one win and four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour and one victory and two top-10 finishes on the European Tour. However, Donald is still the world's No. 1 golfer.

    Many began questioning this ranking after he missed the cut at the U.S. Open. He is ranked at the top for a reason though, and he clearly demonstrates this through his long drives and easy short game.

    Donald needs a breakthrough victory to combat many of the questions people are beginning to ask and to gain back some of the followers who jumped off his bandwagon.

    Hoisting the trophy on Sunday at the British Open would not be a bad start.