By Brandon Raper @Brandon__Raper on July 14, 2014
The Open Championship returns to the Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake this week for the first time since Tiger Woods won in 2006, and just the second time in the rota in almost 50 years.
Woods is back from injury to chase a 15th major, and Phil Mickelson is set to defend his surprise title from 2013. Of course, they're far from the only stars in this deep field. Read on to see our official power rankings for the 143rd Open Championship.
The 25-year-old Fowler has had quite the up-and-down season, but things are looking good for one of the game's most popular young stars. He's finished in the top-five at the Masters and U.S. Open, just scored a top-ten at the Scottish Open last week, and seems to have his game peaking at the right time. The time might be right for his first major championship at Hoylake.
The "Big Easy" isn't having a stellar year, but he closed out the Scottish Open in style with a Sunday 66, and is always a force at this tournament. He has nine top-tens and two wins at The Open since 2000, including a third-place finish at Hoylake in 2006. Els just seems perfectly suited for links golf, and that should be no different this time around.
Still working for an elusive major championship, Poulter struggled at the Scottish Open and missed the cut, but he should bounce back from that disappointment at Royal Liverpool. Poulter has scored top-tens in each of the last two Opens, and has finished in the top-20 at both of this season's majors. If he can get off to a solid start, he could easily make a weekend run.
Casey has been on the comeback trail in 2014, and although he's been decent on the PGA Tour, he seems to be really hitting a stride across the pond, posting solid marks in his last three European Tour events. A win this week might be a bit of a lofty goal, but he should continue the upward trend in his return to The Open.
Anybody outside of Tiger's innermost circle who claims they know how the 14-time major champion is truly feeling right now is probably lying to you. It's that uncertainty that leads to my unusually low ranking for Woods at the Open. If healthy and practiced, he could win this. If not, he could just as easily be headed home early. Still, he's far too good to ignore, and will be the main attraction once again.
At first glance, the Open doesn't appear suited to Watson's game, but people thought the same thing about Phil Mickelson last year. Could Bubba surprise and hold the Claret Jug?
Somewhat soft conditions at Royal Liverpool should allow his length to provide an advantage. Watson's iron play has been extremely good in 2014, but he must avoid the dangerous pot bunkers to save strokes, as he ranks just 163rd on the PGA Tour in sand save percentage.
After a breakout major season in 2013, Matsuyama missed the cut at his Masters debut, but earned his first PGA Tour title at June's Memorial Tournament. At just 22 years old, he doesn't get rattled by the massive pressure of a major championship, and he has the ability to save strokes from trouble in sand or rough.
There's no doubt that this tournament is as important to McDowell as any other in the world. He's rounding into solid form, with back-to-back top tens in Europe, including his second consecutive win at the French Open. McDowell is a solid bet to stick around through the weekend, and after an eight-shot comeback in Paris, he has to feel he's never truly out.
With two 2014 wins, but also four missed cuts in his last seven PGA Tour starts, it's time to see what Reed has in his bag to back up that "top five player" talk. It's his Open debut, so there's no history to draw on, but sometimes going in fresh is a good thing. You don't win twice in a year by accident, so the game is there if he can harness it.
A model of consistency, Furyk has finished outside the top-20 just once in his last nine PGA Tour starts, including back-to-back runner-ups at the Wells Fargo and The PLAYERS Championship. He hasn't posted a top-ten at the Open since 2008, but he did finish fourth at Royal Liverpool in 2006, so despite some differences, he'll have some positive vibes to add to his considerable game.
The 2013 PGA Champion started 2014 in solid form, but he's hit a bit of a slump over the summer. Dufner will have to dig deep to make a run at the Open, but he has the ability to put up a streak of red numbers, ranking 22nd on Tour in birdie average this season. Perhaps a change in scenery is what Dufner needs to get his game back on track.
It seems like there's nothing Jimmy Walker can do wrong on a golf course this year. He may not have won since February, but he's been in the top-ten in the Masters, the PLAYERS Championship and the U.S. Open, and has missed just two cuts since January. He just hasn't shown many weaknesses lately, and should be a solid bet in his second Open Championship appearance.
Keegan Bradley bounced back nicely from missing the cut at the Masters to tie for fourth at Pinehurst in the U.S. Open. In his last two Open trips, he's steadily improved, from 34th in 2012, up to 15th at Muirfield last year. He's also close with Phil Mickelson, who could be a valuable resource in navigating Royal Liverpool. Look for a solid showing from Bradley this week.
It feels like Westwood is ready to claim his first major any day now. With nine top-tens in majors since 2010, as well as two top-three runs in the Open (2010 and 2013), this could be the week. Westwood struggled a bit in Scotland last weekend, but he always seems to find a way to compete on the biggest stage, and is a solid pick for Hoylake.
Healthy and having one of the better seasons of his young career, Dustin Johnson is hard to pick against this week. His iron game is truly complementing his immense distance off the tee, and he's found his way into the top-ten in two of his last three Opens. Much like Tiger in 2006, he may not even really need to hit the driver this week, which should allow him to avoid some big trouble.
Still ranked second in the world, it can be easy for American audiences who don't see much of the Swedish star to forget just how good he is. He posted top-tens in all three of his worldwide tournaments in June, including a T4 at Pinehurst and a runner-up at the BMW Internaional Open. The 2013 runner-up from Muirfield will be on a mission to recreate some of last summer's magic this year.
Whether he believes it yet or not, Garcia is good enough to win a major, perhaps this one. He's been consistently solid for much of 2014, including two top-three performances in his last three PGA Tour starts. His last time at Royal Liverpool, Garcia finished tied for fifth, and it wouldn't be out of the question for him to improve that this time around.
If history holds true for Zach Johnson, following another top-two finish at the John Deere Classic, he should also be in line for yet another top-ten at the Open Championship. Accomplishing that trans-Atlantic feat in both 2012 and 2013 is no small achievement, and the 2007 Masters champion should translate that into a solid performance at Royal Liverpool.
Few players have been as good as Kaymer over the last several months. After his wire-to-wire win at The PLAYERS Championship, he rolled to victory at Pinehurst, and looks as good as ever heading into the Open. Although he only has one top-ten in six Open appearances and struggled in Paris, he's battle-tested and should contend for his second career major.
In 2013, even Phil himself didn't really believe he'd be win the Claret Jug. After holding it for a year (and drinking ,000 bottles of wine from it), he isn't inclined to just give it back and be done with it yet. No, he hasn't been impressive for much of this year, but when it comes to the majors, his creativity with every single shot will keep him in contention.
Back in action for the first time in three weeks, Kuchar is ready to finally stop dealing with questions about when he'll win his first major. He's having another of his typically impressive seasons, and over the last two years he seems to be increasingly comfortable with links golf. Consistency, a Kuchar trademark, will serve him well in the Open.
Last year's trip to Muirfield was a last-minute voyage for Spieth, who had just won the John Deere Classic to earn full PGA Tour membership in his rookie season. He finished a respectable 44th in 2013, and with another year of experience, he could improve on that dramatically at Hoylake. He's got eight top-25s in his last nine starts, and the sky is the limit for Spieth.
If it weren't for a few players who have just played more than Scott, he would easily be at the top of this list. Arguably, with two straight top-three Open appearances and three consecutive top-tens on Tour, Scott is playing as well as anybody in the world. After his near-misses, this could be the time for Scott to claim his second major title.
Rory McIlroy has made everybody forget about the down year that was 2013, and after working his way back into form, could be poised to make a run at the Open. It's a tournament that hasn't always been easy for McIlroy in years past, but he seems to be more mature both on and off the course these days, and he should find a way to take care of business.
Yes, there's a ton of recency bias at play here, but can you blame anybody for this pick? Rose hasn't posted a top-ten at the Open since he was low amateur in 1998, but back-to-back wins have him on top of his game, and that counts for a lot in golf. Three in a row capped by a major would be a tall task, but I can't think of many players who have looked as good as Rose this year.
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