The Biggest Concern for Golf's Top Stars at the 2014 British Open
With the 154th Open Championship beginning Thursday, the golf world's brightest stars are playing practice rounds and familiarizing themselves with Royal Liverpool as it presents itself this year.
Tiger Woods and his supporting cast all have worries as their opening-round tee times approach.
For some, those concerns are serious. For others, there's really nothing to worry about.
What could potentially plague your favorite golfer this year at Hoylake?
Read on to see.
Concern(s): Rust, his back.
Why it Matters: Tiger Woods returned from a three-month layoff at the Quicken Loans National and missed the cut. If it were any other player, that combination would mean he has no shot this week. Woods says his back is fine, and we'll take him at his word.
How Big of Deal is it? It's difficult to imagine there's any chance Tiger could do any damage to his back. Surely, the incision is well-healed, and as the offending pinched nerve has been removed, there's no danger there. Rust, however, is a very legitimate concern.
Concern: The shape of his game.
Why it Matters: Phil Mickelson missed the cut at the Masters and The Players Championship, and he hasn't finished inside the top 10 anywhere this year.
How Big of Deal is it?: Really not that big. In preparing for the Open Championship, Mickelson teed it up at the Scottish Open last week. There he finished 11th, after firing a Sunday 65. He seems confident entering the competition and has good memories of links golf, having won at Muirfield last year.
Concern: Second-round struggles.
Why it Matters: Rory McIlroy has had difficulty in the second round of some significant tournaments this year. He fired a 77 in the second round of the Masters and a 74 at The Players. At last week's Scottish Open, he carded a 78 in round two, after opening with 64.
How Big of Deal is it?: We'll see. McIlroy is aware of the problem. In his pre-tournament press conference, he said "I may be putting too much pressure on myself, going out on Fridays and trying to back up a (good) score." Thus, he'll be doing everything in his power to be in the right frame of mind come Friday.
Concern: The ghosts of the 2012 Open Championship.
Why it Matters: Adam Scott led the 2012 Open Championship by four strokes with four holes to play. However, a slow bleed began on the 15th tee, and Scott excruciatingly bogeyed his final four holes to lose by a stroke.
How Big of Deal is it?: The Australian didn't let the meltdown shatter his confidence—he won the Masters the following year. Given his ability to rebound so significantly and his tie for third at Muirfield last year, the psychic wounds of 2012 shouldn't hamper him this year.
Concern: Figuring out links-style golf.
Why it Matters: Bubba Watson has had difficulty at past Open Championships. He's made three of five cuts in the R&A's event, but has never finished better than a tie for 23rd.
How Big of Deal is it?: It would have been encouraging to see Watson tee it up at the Scottish Open last week and play well on a links course like his buddy Rickie Fowler did. His lack of comfort on traditional British courses is a significant concern, and he hasn't given any indications he's ready to raise the Claret Jug.
Concern: Lack of experience.
Why it Matters: Although Jordan Spieth was brilliant in his first appearance at the Masters earlier this year, that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to play well at the Open Championship. He tied for 44th at Muirfield last year, not showing the instant aptitude he did at Augusta.
How Big of Deal is it?: Last year, Spieth opened with 69 at Muirfield. However, he didn't break 74 in the succeeding rounds. Still, much of this can be chalked up to a letdown following his win at the John Deere Classic the previous week and the immediate transatlantic flight that followed.
Concern: He doesn't have what it takes.
Why it Matters: Sergio Garcia made a troubling admission at the Masters a few years ago. As Bob Harig wrote for ESPN (quoting an Augusta Chronicle piece) in 2012, Garcia said '"I'm not good enough ... I don't have the thing I need to have."
How Big of Deal is it?: Huge. Although Garcia has an impressive seven career top-10 finishes at the Open Championship, he's never been able to seal the deal. What's different this year?
Why it Matters: Two years after finishing tied for fifth at the 2011 Open Championship, Rickie Fowler fired rounds of 78, 76 to miss the cut at Muirfield. He's also missed seven cuts this PGA Tour season. He's going through swing changes, but the inconsistency is troubling.
How Big of Deal is it?: Rickie Fowler made the decision to head across the pond early to play in the Scottish Open where he finished eighth. He tied for second at the U.S. Open in his last PGA Tour start. Fowler is on form and looks comfortable with his swing. There's no indication he'll do anything other than play well this week.