British Open 2014: Biggest Winners and Losers
The British Open is in the books, and yet another golfer has added to his major tally in 2014.
This time it was 25-year-old Rory McIlroy who won the third major of his career on Sunday, with a 17-under-par masterclass at Royal Liverpool. He now has three legs of the Grand Slam under his belt.
While McIlroy certainly stole the show, there were plenty of other heartwarming moments throughout the week at Hoylake. Tiger Woods made his major comeback after back surgery, a factory worker held his own against the big boys, Rickie Fowler continued to be a threat and Sergio Garcia nearly caused shock waves on Sunday.
Just like that, three golf majors are in the books. Here are all the winners and losers from a fabulous four days across the pond.
Winner: Rory McIlroy's Finish on Saturday
Rory McIlroy might have won the British Open on Sunday, but it was his finish on Saturday that really made his third major title possible.
In Round 3, he was leading but barely holding on to pars, while Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler were tearing up the scoreboard. By the 12th hole, McIlroy and Fowler were tied, and it looked like fireworks could be coming during the weekend.
But the 25-year-old quickly took back control, finishing with two eagles in the final three holes. Combined with Fowler's three bogeys and a birdie, this gave McIlroy a six-shot lead heading into Sunday.
That turned out to be key breathing room for the Northern Irish golfer, who ended up winning only by two strokes. His 71 on the final day was the highest score amongst those in the top 10.
But the only thing that matters for McIlroy is that he's finally won his home major, and he's now a green jacket away from a Grand Slam.
"It's pretty hard to describe right now, to be honest," McIlroy told Tom Rinaldi of ESPN in a television interview after his victory. "I'm feeling pretty good right now."
Loser: Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods said all of the right things about contending heading into Hoylake, the site of his 2006 British Open win. After his three-under-par round on the first day, it looked like he had the goods to make something special happen.
But the 14-time major champion quickly fell back down to earth. A 77 on Friday saw him barely make the cut, and a 73 on Saturday and a 75 on Sunday left him at six over par for the championship.
He finished in 69th place, his lowest finish after four days of play at a major since the 1996 U.S. Open.
Still, only a few months removed from back surgery, Woods was able to look at this British Open as a step in the right direction.
Via Steve DiMeglio of USA Today, he's already looking at the future: "I've got more game time under my belt. Obviously there's a lot of things I need to work on, but I haven't been able to work on a lot. I was down for three months. So I'm just now starting to come back."
Winner: Rory McIlroy's Dad
The only person who might be as happy as Rory McIlroy on Sunday? That would be his dad, Gerry McIlroy.
According to Andrew Cotter of the BBC, 10 years ago Gerry and his friends put a £400 bet on Rory to win the British Open by the time he turned 26. It just happened that his prodigal son won the tournament when he was still 25.
Kyle Porter of CBS Sports did the math, and since the odds were 500-1 at the time, that should be a $342,000 payout for Papa McIlroy.
The proud father would have been beaming for his son no matter what, particularly after his third major victory, but some extra pocket change surely won't put a damper on the celebration.
Loser: The Defending Champion
Last year, Phil Mickelson did something that few thought he would be able to do earlier in his career: He conquered links golf and won the 2013 British Open.
But this year, the 44-year-old crashed back to reality just a bit. He didn't have a disastrous showing at Royal Liverpool, but he never did get close to taking the Claret Jug back home.
The five-time major winner shot a 74 on Thursday and wasn't ever able to get fully back on track. He shot a 70 on Friday to make the cut and a 71 on Saturday before finally shooting a great round of 68 on Sunday to put him at five under for the championship, tied for 23rd.
While Mickelson has achieved far too much in his career for moral victories to have much weight, this was his best finish at a major since the British Open last year. He will hope to build on this for the rest of the season, as time is running out for him to add to his major tally.
Winners: The 35-and-Unders
There is a wave of youth taking over the golf course, and it sure is fun to watch.
Of course, McIlroy won this British Open, his third major title before his 26th birthday—an impressive feat. But he has plenty of competitors in his age group.
Twenty-five-year-old Rickie Fowler continued his ascension at the majors this year. He finished tied for second with Garcia, his third finish in the top five this year at majors. Fowler has officially been the most consistent golfer at the big events this season. It now feels like a matter of when, not if, he gets his maiden major victory.
Garcia feels like an old-timer on the tour, but he's actually only 34 years old and looks to be playing the most confident golf of his career.
The rest of the leaderboard was filled with youth as well. Marc Leishman, 30, and Adam Scott, 34, tied for fifth. Twenty-nine-year-old Charl Schwartzel, 33-year-old Edoardo Molinari, 27-year-old Shane Lowry, 34-year-old Graeme McDowell and 24-year-old Victor Dubuisson finished up the top 10.
The only name I haven't mentioned? That would be 44-year-old Jim Furyk, who tied for the low round of the championship with a 65 on Sunday to finish alone in fourth place. Apparently, he doesn't care about narratives.
Loser: Tom Watson's Retirement Plans
Another exception to the youngsters narrative? That would be Tom Watson. If anyone is still searching for a fountain of youth, you can check in with him.
The 64-year-old made the cut at Royal Liverpool and then shot a 68 on Sunday, leaving him at one over par for the championship, tied for 51st.
James Riach of The Guardian put Watson's achievement into perspective:
One of the more remarkable statistics of this year’s championship emerged during the opening two rounds. The combined age of the group containing Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama was, at 67, only three years greater than Watson alone.
Yet while the current leaderboard is dominated by young guns, Watson is a reminder that experience and know-how are commodities invaluable in the game, especially where links golf is concerned.
Watson, who finished second at the Senior PGA Championship this year, first won the British Open back in 1975, 14 years before McIlroy was even born.
He's not slowing down anytime soon either. Watson is the Ryder Cup Captain for the U.S., and he has to figure out the team that will take on Europe this fall. He's also getting ready for the Senior British Open next week.
Winner: The Molinari Brothers
It was a pretty great week to be an Italian at the British Open, especially if your last name was Molinari.
Both Molinari brothers were tied toward the top of the leaderboard after the first day of play, and they continued to fare well throughout the weekend.
Edoardo, 33, finished at 11 under par and tied for seventh, marking the first top-10 victory at a major in his career. This was particularly impressive considering that he was tied for 146th in the rankings coming into this week and hadn't played in a major since the 2012 Masters due to injury.
His younger brother Francesco, 31, wasn't far behind at Royal Liverpool. He finished at eight under par after a 67 on Sunday helped him recover from a 75 on Saturday. Francesco was tied for 15th, which is his best finish ever at the British Open.
Karen Crouse reported on their relationship for The New York Times:
The beauty of golf, the brothers said, is that they play against the course and not each other. That helps keep any sibling rivalry from infecting their relationship. When both are in or around the lead, though, it creates an extra layer of stress.
Via Crouse, Edoardo said: "Because you’re pulling for your brother, but obviously, if you’re tied with him for the lead, you don’t want him to make a lot of birdies."
Another Italian had a successful week at Hoylake as well, as 21-year-old Matteo Manassero finished tied for 19th.
Loser: 2014 Major Winners
The PGA Tour seems to be constantly searching for consistency at the majors, and the British Open certainly didn't provide any of that from the reigning Masters or U.S. Open champions.
Bubba Watson didn't even stay around for the weekend. The 2012 and 2014 winner of the green jacket missed the cut at the Open Championship for the first time since 2010. He has never finished in the top 20 at the British Open.
U.S. Open winner Martin Kaymer did make the cut, but after his weekend he might have wished that he didn't. The two-time major champion's 79 on Sunday left him at eight over par for the championship, and he finished behind Tiger Woods in 70th place.
No golfer has won two majors in a year since Padraig Harrington in 2008.
Winner: Factory Worker John Singleton
One of the best stories at this year's British Open didn't stick around for the weekend, but it's certainly still worth rehashing.
John Singleton is a factory worker who works 10 minutes away from the course at Royal Liverpool. After a few years of injuries interrupted his golfing dreams, the 30-year-old qualified for the British Open this year, and his boss shut down the factory and brought everyone to support Singleton on Thursday and Friday.
The local shot four over par for the championship and missed the cut, but he finished with three birdies on his final four holes and certainly held his own against the best golfers of the world.
Doug Ferguson of The Boston Globe wrote about Singleton's experience:
Singleton, a happy-go-lucky Liverpudlian, took his spot in the 156-man field after winning a sudden-death playoff in final qualifying. A slew of knee injuries kept him out for three years, the main reason why he hasn’t made it on the professional circuit.
So this was his chance in the spotlight—and he was determined not to waste it.
Regarding his experience on the first tee, Singleton said: "I was close to tears. The Open is at home. To have everyone there was something special."
Loser: Bryden Macpherson
Every major seems to have a ghastly round or two by a golfer. This year at Hoylake, Bryden Macpherson's first-round score of 90, followed by a second-round score of 80, wins him the "loser" distinction.
However, even after his last-place finish, the winner of The Amateur Championship in 2011 had a great attitude. Per Kyle Porter of CBS Sports, Macpherson said: "I enjoyed every moment of it, as much as you could. You go out there and you try and take in the experience for what it is, instead of what you want it to be."
When asked if he had considered withdrawing, he responded: "Definitely not, no. I've never pulled out of a tournament, a competitive event, and I plan to keep it that way for the rest of my career."
His fellow Aussie, Adam Scott, suggested that Macpherson have a couple of beers after his Royal Liverpool trip to forget.
"Maybe Scotty will buy," the 23-year-old replied.
Macpherson has still never reached the weekend at a major championship, but clearly the Australian has plenty of time remaining to get his act together.
Winner: Sergio Garcia's Hole-Out Eagle
Throughout the years, Sergio Garcia has always played some of his best golf at the British Open. Coming into Royal Liverpool, the Spaniard had seven top-10 finishes at this major, including a runner-up finish back in 2007.
It's been six years since the 34-year-old last finished in the top five at a major, but it was clear that things were going Garcia's way at Hoylake after his phenomenal hole-out eagle on No. 2 on Friday. (You can see it here, thanks to Kyle Porter of CBS Sports.)
Garcia was able to keep the good times rolling throughout the weekend. His rounds of 68, 70, 69 and 66 put him at 15 under par for the championship and tied for second with his good friend Rickie Fowler. He's finished runner-up at a major before, but this one won't sting. A six-under-par round on the final day is nothing to hang his head about.
It's fun to see the charismatic golfer enjoying his game again.
OK, yes, I will admit that Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler were able to keep things interesting for the majority of the day on Sunday, which was much appreciated. But still, given that Rory McIlroy had a huge lead coming into the final day, it was going to take something miraculous to really wake up this British Open. That didn't happen.
There are few things in sports as suspenseful as an incredibly close major on the back nine on Sunday, but 2014 has not delivered in that category.
Bubba Watson had one arm in the green jacket during the final nine at the Masters, and Martin Kaymer's dominating play at the U.S. Open left the field in the dust. This week, McIlroy's triumphant first three days left little doubt about his future heading into Sunday.
It was still a great major to watch, with inspiring stories and great golf from beginning to end, but heartbeats remained relatively steady throughout. Hopefully the PGA Championship will have fireworks to spare.