What Golf's Top Stars Must Prove Before the 2014 British Open Championship
Not long after the U.S. Open experience at Pinehurst, the wheels start turning as players start thinking wind, rain and fast, bouncy links golf courses in the Open Championship.
Some of those players eligible to play at Royal Liverpool will play once or twice before going to England, some will play once, and some may not play at all beforehand.
Some players, like Martin Kaymer, will just be trying to stay sharp.
Others, like Tiger Woods, have to prove to themselves, and fans across the world, that they're ready to compete in the third major of the year.
Here's a list of what 10 of the top players in the game will be trying to prove before the Open Championship.
Tiger Woods hasn't played a competitive round of golf since March 30, when he stumbled through the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship and posted a 78.
His season to that point had been nothing to speak of, and the determination was made that the best thing for his ailing back was a microdiscectomy and about three months' rest.
Woods will return to action at his tournament, the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club, and will then have two weeks for more practice before he is expected to be at his next event, the Open Championship, held July 17-20 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
He needs to prove his game is at a level where he can compete in the Open on a course where he decimated the field in winning in 2006.
Adam Scott has had a nice year.
A win, six top-10s, $2.7 million in earnings.
But he hasn't exactly been a "major" player in the first two major championships of 2014.
He was T14 at the Masters and T9 at the U.S. Open.
More is expected of him since he won the 2011 Masters.
He had a chance to validate that Masters victory in 2012 when he took a four-shot lead into the final four holes of the Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Scott blew that lead and handed the title to Ernie Els.
Scott needs to prove to himself more than anyone else that he's tough enough mentally to get back into that position and be able finish off an Open chase.
If you didn't know whose name was on top of this particular 2014 season summary, you would be impressed with the numbers.
A win on the European Tour and six top-10s on the PGA Tour seemed to be sure signs that the native of Northern Ireland was ready to become a threat once again in the majors.
But that hasn't been the case to this point. He's had finishes of T8 and T23.
McIlroy's putter has failed him too many times this year, which has led to those finishes.
He needs to prove his putting stroke is back and use it to his advantage once he gets to Royal Liverpool.
You remember Phil Mickelson. Tall guy, left handed, hits the ball all over the place.
He's won 42 times on the PGA Tour, including five major championships.
The more recent Mickelson? He doesn't have a top-10 finish in 15 starts this year.
His overall game is more unpredictable than usual, and his short game is not nearly as sparkling as it had been.
Mickelson is the defending Open Championship, but he's going to have to prove he has much more game than he's shown to this point if he hopes to come anywhere close to contending at Royal Liverpool.
For Martin Kaymer, there's really not much to prove coming off of his masterful performance in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
Two of his last three starts have been victories: The Players Championship and the U.S. Open.
He is another of those who have won one major and would like nothing better than to win another so as not to be remembered as a one-shot wonder.
Proving he can keep up that level of play, including getting off to another fast start, will be at the top of Kaymer's list. And his list of accomplishments for the season would really sparkle if he could get off to that quick start and go wire-to-wire again.
Bubba Watson has a pair of green jackets in his closet, symbolic of the two Masters titles he's won.
That makes him a two-time major champion and, as a result, the expectations are higher for him than most players.
And, as he did following his win at Augusta National in 2011, Watson has fallen well below those expectations again.
He was in contention at the Memorial Tournament but folded like a cheap tent coming down the stretch.
As he admitted at Pinehurst, he's not really tough enough mentally to play a golf course he believes might not suit his game.
He needs to figure out a way to prove to himself that he can compete with the other kids on a big-boy golf course.
Sergio Garcia has played in 17 Open Championships, more than any of the other majors.
And he's been relatively successful in that endeavor, finishing second once and posting three top-fives overall. He's made the cut in 13 of those 17 starts.
Based on his performance on the PGA Tour this year—six top-10s, including a second and two thirds—it could be assumed the Spaniard is primed for the Open title next month.
He needs to prove that to be the case in anticipation of Royal Liverpool. If he does play well there, it will be something of an upset, considering he's had just one top-10 finish in his last 11 major starts.
After suffering through a season that's been plagued by a wrist and thumb injury, Jason Day may finally be turning the corner.
He finished T20 in the Masters, which wasn't great, but it showed the Australian he was moving in the right direction. It was Day's best finish since February, and that was certainly a big deal for him.
Day was not very good in the Memorial Tournament, finishing T37, but in the U.S. Open, he was really good. Like everyone else, he spent the entire 72 holes chasing Martin Kaymer. Day finished T4, including a pair of 68s
He needs to keep getting healthy and get his game to the point where he can seriously contend in the Open Championship.
Matt Kuchar continues to do a lot of good things on golf courses around the PGA Tour.
One win in 2014, a runner-up finish and nine top-10 finishes in 17 starts.
He's made $3.75 million already this year, which is something that's happened regularly over the past several years.
And he's done just fine in this year's majors: T5 in the Masters and T12 in the U.S. Open.
As short as he is off the tee, averaging 282.3 on measured drive to rank 140th, he's going to have to improve his greens-in-regulation percentage of 67.04, which puts him 40th in that category.
Jordan Spieth really only has one more thing to prove in his brief, but spectacular, PGA Tour career: that he can win a major championship.
We know he has abundant talent, has the ability to win regular events on the PGA Tour (he's done that once), can contend in majors (he's done that twice) and has the demeanor to do all of those things regularly for a long time.
He has a pair of seconds this year, six top-10s and $3.4 million earned.
Spieth needs to have patience, as do his fans and the media.
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