Players Whose Games Are Best Suited to Win the 2016 Open Championship

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2016

Players Whose Games Are Best Suited to Win the 2016 Open Championship

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    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    The Open Championship is perhaps the most challenging of the four professional majors.

    While the overall carnage might pale in comparison to what is typically experienced at majors such as the U.S Open, the Open Championship provides an altogether different kind of challenge.

    When a player arrives at a major such as the U.S. Open or PGA Championship, the vast majority of preparation will involve simply learning the golf course—mapping out what clubs to hit off each tee, understanding where to miss and documenting every bump and break on each of the 18 greens.

    Preparation for the Open Championship will also entail this level of course exploration, but it doesn’t stop there.

    What separates the Open from every other major is that in addition to standard course prep, participants are required to essentially learn an entirely new style of playing the game for one week out of the year.

    Throughout history, players typically fall into one of three categories when it comes to links golf.

    There are those who simply fall in love with this ancient style of golf from the moment their opening tee shot down the middle of the fairway trickles into a hidden pot bunker.

    There are those who never quite grasp the intricacies of links golf and, thus, never experience success at the Open Championship.

    And then there are those who initially struggle with the links game but somewhere along the way learn to appreciate this style of play and eventually go on to master what many consider to be the purest form of golf in the world.

    Here are nine players who, through very different paths, have ultimately managed to master links golf.

Rickie Fowler

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Best Open Championship Finish: T2 in 2014

    Last Event: T10 at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational

    Out of all the majors, Rickie Fowler has experienced the most success at the Open Championship, which is somewhat surprising for a player from Southern California who now resides in South Florida.

    Fowler tied for 14th in his Open Championship debut at St. Andrews back in 2010 where he made headlines with an impressive score of 67 in very difficult weather conditions during Round 2.

    In total Fowler has three top-15 in his first six appearances at the Open Championship, including a T5 finish in 2011 and T2 in 2014.

    The 27-year-old’s creativity, particularly around the greens, seems to be a perfect fit for the links-style courses in the Open rota.

    With six top-10 finishes at the majors in his still very young career, Fowler has certainly been knocking at the door of major-championship glory. And if past performances are anything to go by, the 2016 Open Championship could provide Fowler with an excellent chance to capture his first major championship title.

Louis Oosthuizen

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    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    Best Open Championship Finish: Won the 2010 Open

    Last Event: T21 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

    Following his breakout win at the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, Louis Oosthuizen seemed to disappear for a while.

    He recorded just two other top-10s at the majors between 2011 and 2014, although he did come close to claiming the 2012 Masters when he lost in a playoff to Adam Scott.

    Oosthuizen is the type of player who seems to peak at the majors every few years, and if this trend holds true, the 33-year-old South African is due for another win.

    The 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year recorded back-to-back T2 finishes at the U.S. Open and Open Championship last year, including a playoff loss at the 2015 Open Championship.

    So far this year Oosthuizen has two top-25 finishes at the majors, a win at the ISPS Handa Perth International and three other top-10s.

    Out of the four majors, Oosthuizen has enjoyed the most success at the Open Championship.

    So if his game happens to be hot this week, he certainly has the ability to run away from the field…just ask those who were attempting to chase him down back in 2010 at the Old Course.

Dustin Johnson

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Best Open Championship Finish: T2 in 2011

    Last Event: Won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

    Coming off two consecutive wins at the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, there is not a golfer on earth as hot as Dustin Johnson right now.

    Johnson has also had numerous opportunities to win the Open Championship.

    He tied for second back in 2011 while playing in the final group with Darren Clarke, who ultimately captured the title.

    Johnson tied for ninth in 2012 and was the 36-hole leader at last year’s Open Championship before falling back on the weekend.

    The current forecast is calling for a 40 percent chance of rain for most of the week at Royal Troon. If the damp conditions do indeed move in later in the week, those springy-links fairways will lose a lot of their bounce. This will make the course play significant longer and provide a distinct advantage to the more powerful players such as Johnson.

    As hot as Johnson is right now, he could be playing on the moon this week and would still be the unquestionable favorite heading into the event.

    Add in the fact Johnson just so happens to perform well on links-style courses and it is difficult to see a scenario where Johnson is not at least in the mix this weekend.

Marc Leishman

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Best Open Championship Finish: T2 last year

    Last Event: 55th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

    Marc Leishman has two top-five finishes in his last two Open Championship appearances, including a T2 finish last year at St. Andrews when he lost out to Zach Johnson in a three-man aggregate playoff that also included Oosthuizen.

    While Leishman’s game might not appear to be firing on all cylinders heading into this week’s Open at Royal Troon, recent performances have historically been a meaningless barometer for predicting how the 32-year-old will perform once he arrives at a links-style Open Championship venue.

    Leishman had missed the cut in two out of the three events leading into last year’s Open Championship where he came within a hair of capturing the title.

    Back in 2014 Leishman had just one top-10 finish in the five events leading up to the Open and had missed the cut at the Greenbrier Classic in his last appearance before heading across the pond.

    Leishman appears to be a player who simply understands how to score at links-style courses.

    So it should surprise no one if he is right back in the mix this week at Royal Troon.

Sergio Garcia

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Best Open Championship Finish: Second Place in 2007

    Last Event: T5 at the BMW International Open

    Sergio Garcia has two top-10 finishes in his last two Open Championship appearances.

    Since 2001, Garcia has top-10 finishes at nine out of 15 Open Championships he has attended.

    Out of the four professional majors, Garcia has had significantly more top-10 finishes at the Open Championship than any other major.

    The 36-year-old Spaniard has come within inches of winning the Open several times. His most memorable Open Championship heartbreak would have to be the 2007 Open at Carnoustie where he lipped out for the win on the 72nd hole and then lost to Padraig Harrington by a stroke in a four-hole aggregate playoff.

    Garcia has been a fixture for quite some time atop the list of best players to have never won a major.

    The current world No. 12 will arrive at Troon this week coming off three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a win at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

    A hot hand coming into the one major he has performed best at throughout his career could provide Garcia with an excellent chance to finally capture that elusive major championship title.

Adam Scott

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Best Open Championship Finish: Second Place in 2012

    Last Event: T10 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

    While Adam Scott’s career-defining achievement was certainly his 2013 Masters victory, the 35-year-old Australian has enjoyed more consistent success at the Open Championship than any other major over the past four years.

    Scott is coming off four consecutive top-10 finishes at the Open, including a T10 last year at St. Andrews.

    Scott would fall into that category of players that has learned to master links-style golf.

    Following just one top-10 finish in his first 12 trips to the Open Championship, Scott found himself holding the 54-hole lead at the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

    Scott would of course go on to squander a four-stroke lead with just four holes to play and hand the title over to Ernie Els in one of the more memorable Open Championship meltdowns in recent history, but something appeared to click for Scott that week at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and the 35-year-old Australian has never looked back.

    While Scott has yet to capture an Open Championship title, there are few players in the field this week who have enjoyed more consistent success at the Open than Scott has over the past several years.

Jordan Spieth

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Best Open Championship Finish: T4 last year

    Last Event: T3 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

    Jordan Spieth is rapidly learning how to play links golf.

    The 22-year-old Texan tied for 44th at his first Open Championship appearance back in 2013, tied for 36 in 2014 and then jumped up into a tie for fourth last year.

    However, what must be said is that Spieth’s T4 last year at St. Andrews was no ordinary T4 finish. This strong performance at the Old Course came while playing under the immense pressure of attempting to win the third leg of the professional Grand Slam.  

    Spieth’s ability to put together that type of performance while caring the ghost of Bobby Jones on his back is a clear indication the 22-year-old Texan has begun to master links golf.

    Spieth is not one of the longest hitters in the game, but his ability to intelligently navigate his way around any golf course combined with a superior touch on and around the greens makes him a perfect fit for links-style Open Championship golf.

    It would come as a surprise to most if Spieth were not crowned the Champion Golfer of the Year sometime in the very near future.

Zach Johnson

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    GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

    Best Open Championship Finish: Won last year

    Last Event: T10 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

    Zach Johnson captured his second major championship title just last year at St. Andrews.

    While many might be under the impression that Johnson’s win at the Old Course came out of nowhere, the 40-year-old Iowa City, Iowa, native had actually be trending in the right direction at the Open for several years.

    After failing to crack the top-20 in his first eight Open Championship appearances, Johnson has recorded three top-10s in the last four years.

    Johnson’s game is actually very well-suited for links golf.

    He keeps the ball in play, manages the course extremely well and is quite strong on and around the greens.

    Now that Johnson has clearly gained some confidence on the links, he could be a force to be reckoned with once again this week at Royal Troon.

Phil Mickelson

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Best Open Championship Finish: Won in 2013

    Last Event: T13 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open

    In a way it is quite shocking that it took Phil Mickelson 11 years to record his first top-10 finish at an Open Championship, and 21 trips across the pond before claiming his first title.

    Lefty and links golf should have been a match made in golfing heaven throughout his entire career.

    Most links courses are fairly wide open, which allows Mickelson to be aggressive off the tee, and his Houdini-like short-game skills should have given him little trouble navigating the difficult green complexes at courses such as St. Andrews and Carnoustie.

    While it took Mickelson an entire career to get to this point, he has finally learned how to play links golf and seems to have come to appreciate a style of play that had given him fits for more than two decades.

    The tide really began to turn for Mickelson at the 2013 Scottish Open at Castle Stuart where he won against a strong field with a 17-under-par 72-hole score at a links golf course.

    That was Mickelson’s first career victory at a links course, and it clearly provided him the confidence he needed to go out and win his first Open Championship the very next week at Muirfield.

    Since being crowned the Champion Golfer of the Year in 2013, Mickelson has recorded two consecutive top-25 finishes at the Open and is coming off a T13 finish last week at the Scottish Open.

    When it comes to links golf, Mickelson has been the ultimate late bloomer. And while many might view the 46-year-old as a long shot to capture lightning in a bottle once again this week at Troon, if history has taught us anything, it is to never count Lefty out of an event he has come to thoroughly enjoy.

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