2014 British Open: 10 Top Storylines at Royal Liverpool

Richard LeivenbergContributor IIIJuly 13, 2014

2014 British Open: 10 Top Storylines at Royal Liverpool

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    For the first time this year, a major golf tournament will have a complete field of top players when the pros convene at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, for The Open Championship.

    While other stories may appear during the tournament, there are some that stand out as the most prominent and newsworthy occurrences that will catch our attention.

    Tiger Woods will return from back surgery to play in his first major of the year. Phil Mickelson will seek to win consecutive Open Championships. Adam Scott will look to bolster his position as the No. 1 player in the world.

    In fact, 49 of the top 50 players listed in the current official world golf rankings will be in the field. Only Steve Stricker, the 19th player on the list, has opted out.

    Also, veteran past champions, like Tom Watson and Nick Faldo, will match up against a bevy of surging young players, including Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, to challenge the famous Royal Liverpool course where Tiger won in 2006. The topics that stand out will be the ones centered on the players who have shown greatness in the past and the potential to deliver it again in the future. 

    Then, there's the course itself. Set by the sea and susceptible to wind and rain, the heavily bunkered Royal Liverpool can be a royal pain if the weather doesn’t cooperate and is sure to be a talking point throughout the tournament. 

    With all that in mind, here are 10 top storylines going into the 2014 British Open.

10. What Impact Will Youth Movement Have on Leaderboard?

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    Jordan Spieth
    Jordan SpiethAssociated Press

    A bunch of young guns have made a huge impact on the PGA Tour this year. Although none have won a major title, each has the game and the guts to make a run to the top of the leaderboard.

     

    Hideki Matsuyama

    The 22-year-old from Japan has won around the world, including his first PGA Tour win at the Memorial Tournament. Matsuyama is an excellent scrambler who is ranked fifth in birdie average on the tour. He may be young, but he has shown that he is unflappable in high-pressure situations. 

     

    Jordan Spieth

    Still only 20 years old, Spieth remains everyone’s pick to be the next young buck to win a major title. Ranked 10th in the world and fifth in the FedEx Cup standings, he always seems to be right in the mix on the weekend. In 19 events to date, he has 16 top-25 finishes, including seven top-10s and a tie for second at the Masters.

     

    Patrick Reed

    With three wins already on the PGA Tour, Reed proved he knows how to close on Sunday. He just has to get there. He’s had a bumpy ride since winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March.

    After missing five cuts in seven events, he has tied for 11th at the Quicken Loans and tied for 26th at the Greenbrier. Brash and strong, Reed ranks seventh in eagles and 16th in sand saves, two categories that could serve him well at Hoylake.

9. What Veteran Pro Will Surge to the Top?

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    Miguel Angel Jimenez
    Miguel Angel JimenezMatthew Lewis/Getty Images

    It seems like the elderly have an edge over their youthful counterparts at The Open Championship. 

    In fact, the average age of the last five winners is 38.2 years old (Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink). There’s always a surprising vet in the lead at some point.

    This year, a number of previous Open Championship winners over 40 years old will be in the field, including Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Nick Faldo (1987, 1990, 1992), Padraig Harrington (2007, 2008), Stewart Cink (2009), Darren Clarke (2011), Ernie Els (2002, 2012) and Tom Watson (1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983).

    Last year at Muirfield, Angel Cabrera and Miguel Angel Jimenez were in the top five after the first day. Jimenez (50) and Cabrera (44) have both won tournaments this year, and neither should be counted out at Hoylake.

    Oh, yes, it was Phil Mickelson who won last year at the tender age of 43.

8. It's Time for an Englishman to Win The Open

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    Justin Rose
    Justin RoseMatthew Lewis/Getty Images

    An Englishman hasn’t won the British Open since Nick Faldo in 1992. In fact, the English rarely win this event. Faldo won it three times, and before that Tony Jacklin won in 1969.

    But Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood all would appear to have a chance at the title in their native land.

    Rose, the winner of the 2013 U.S. Open, is definitely playing the best of the group right now. He won this year’s Scottish Open, and if you remember, so did Mickelson before taking the title in 2013.

    Then again, three-time winner Faldo is also in the field.

7. Royal Liverpool: A Seaside Sandtrap Awaits Players

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    A brief glance at the weather over Hoylake shows scattered showers and variable winds up to 12 miles per hour predicted for The Open Championship weekend.

    Just another day on the course. Luckily, it will be quite balmy, almost shirt-sleeve weather at anywhere from 67 to 74 degrees.

    The real chore for golfers will be to stay out of those pesky pot bunkers which can ruin your day as quickly as any rainstorm.

    Take a peek at a hole-by-hole guide to the course, and just about every description begins by saying you “can avoid the bunkers by”…fill in the blank.

    The way the diabolical course is designed, even a good shot can have your ball rolling backward into one of these nasty traps.

    By the way, the course begins with the No. 1-ranked hole in terms of difficulty at the 2006 Open Championship, a gnarly 458-yard par four that is populated with bunkers leading to the green.

6. Who Will Win His First Major?

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    Dustin Johnson
    Dustin JohnsonJeff Haynes/Getty Images

    A number of world-class players who have yet to win their first major will descend upon Hoylake. Any one of them has the game that can conquer Royal Liverpool and all have proven themselves as contenders at majors in the past.

    Perhaps this will be the event that will put them over the top.

     

    Matt Kuchar

    Ranked fifth in the world, Kuchar is having another great year, including a tie for fifth at the Masters and a tie for 12th at the U.S. Open. Even with nine top-10 finishes this year, including a win at the RBC Heritage, Kuchar is always the bridesmaid and never the bride at these major events.

     

    Sergio Garcia

    Garcia’s best finish at an Open Championship was second in 2007. He also finished in a tie for fifth the last time the event was played at Royal Liverpool in 2006, so he knows the drill.

    If there is a more frustrating top competitor on the tour, we cannot name him. This year he has made nine out of 10 cuts and finished in the top 10 six times.

     

    Luke Donald

    This is a great opportunity for Donald to prove his mettle. He has dropped to 20th in the world rankings and missed the cut at both the Masters and U.S. Open. Maybe being in his native England will pump him up.

     

    Dustin Johnson 

    Johnson’s career in majors can be summed up as "so close and yet so far." He tied for fourth at this year’s U.S. Open, tied for second at The Open Championship in 2011 and tied for fifth at the 2010 PGA Championship.

    The issue at Hoylake will be whether he can rein in his massive drives. He is having an outstanding year statistically, ranking third in scoring average.

5. Adam Scott Looking to Play Up to No. 1 Status

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    Scott is having another great year, marked by a win at Crown Plaza Invitational and six top-10 finishes in 10 events. So, he is definitely living up to his No. 1 status.

    Or is he?

    What he really needs is another major title. Last year he came pretty close by finishing in a tie for third place. He was second the year before.

    Scott also holds the No. 1 all-around ranking on the pro tour, which includes the 15th position in strokes-gained putting, a stat that shows his vast improvement in the category.

    No question, Scott will make a solid run at his second major at Hoylake.

4. Which Rory McIlroy Will Show Up?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    He fired a sizzling 64 that included a 436-yard drive at the first round of the Scottish Open, only to follow that with a disastrous 78 on the second day. He countered with a 68 on Day 3.

    So which Rory will show up at The Open Championship, and what is with these roller-coaster rounds of his?

    In fact, he was playing true to form at the Scottish Open. At the Memorial, earlier in the year, he went 63-78. At the Wells Fargo, he was 69-76. At the Masters, 71-77.

    Maybe he should just skip the second day at The Open Championship. Whatever the case, he has shown signs of brilliance that marked some of his greatest performances. 

    Should he be able to pull it all together at Hoylake, he could take his third major title.

3. Can Martin Kaymer Continue His Remarkable Run?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The surprise of the year has been Martin Kaymer’s return to prominence.

    The No. 1-ranked player in 2011 and winner of the 2010 PGA Championship, Kaymer had disappeared from the top of leaderboards over the past few years.

    That is until he won the Players Championship and the U.S. Open this year. His stunningly consistent performance at Pinehurst took everyone else in the field out of play. He eventually won by eight strokes over Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton.

    Kaymer brings to Hoylake a world of experience matched by all-around play. He will not be ruffled by wind, rain or the occasional pot bunker.

2. Can Phil Mickelson Win Back-to-Back Open Titles?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 was a great year for Lefty. 

    He won three times, including The Open Championship at Muirfield when he shot a blazing 66 on the last day to rush past the field. He also barely missed winning the U.S. Open, logging his sixth second-place finish.

    2014 has not been as good. No wins, no second- or third-place finishes and some obvious struggles. Most notably, he ranks 149th in accuracy off the tee and 42nd in scoring average. Last year he was sixth in strokes-gained putting. Today he is 109th.

    So, Mickelson has his work cut out for him if he is to win back-to-back titles at The Open Championship.

    But would you bet against him?

1. How Will Tiger Woods Perform at Hoylake?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    All eyes will be on Tiger. Of course they always are. But this time around there will be even more scrutiny.

    How will his recuperating back perform? How will he do on a course he mastered back in 2006 when he tucked away his driver and skillfully manipulated his way for his third British Open title.

    There are so many questions regarding Tiger’s play and his quest to win his first major since 2008 and his 15th overall.

    While he may be comfortable playing at Hoylake, will his body be able to follow his lead? 

    This marks Tiger’s first major tournament of the year, and he is playing it after just one post-surgery tournament, the Quicken Loans, in which he missed the cut.

    Yes, everyone will be watching, but what a miracle it would be should he actually win.