10 Players to Watch: 114th Open

1. Jordan Spieth, United States — Despite winning the Masters and the U.S. Open, Spieth was not the favorite in the Open Championship until top-ranked Rory McIlroy knocked himself out of the tournament when he injured his left ankle playing soccer with friends. The 21-year-old American comes to St. Andrews on the heels of victories in his last two events, the U.S. Open and the John Deere Classic, and he earned four total wins in a torrid first half of the season. Spieth will be playing in the Open Championship for the third time, having tied for 44th two years ago at Muirfield and tied for 36th last year at Royal Liverpool, but he won on a U.S. links-style course, Chambers Bay, last month.

2. Rickie Fowler, United States — Fowler announced his arrival in Scotland last Sunday by making birdies on three of the last four holes to win Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Gullane Golf Club. That will make the Players champion one of the favorites this week in the 144th Open Championship not far away on the other side of the Firth of Forth. Fowler did everything but win his first major title last year, finishing in the top five in all four events, including ties for second in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and in the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. When the Open Championship was last played at St. Andrews in 2010, he rallied to tie for 14th after opening with a 79.

3. Adam Scott, Australia — Simply having Steve Williams carrying the bag in the U.S. Open seemed to make a difference at Chambers Bay, where Scott tied for fourth to equal his best previous result this season, a tie for fourth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. The Aussie, who claimed his only major victory in the 2013 Masters, will have Williams alongside again this week in the Open Championship, in which he finished second in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, tied for third in 2013 at Muirfield and tied for fifth last year at Royal Liverpool. When the third major of the year was played at St. Andrews in 2010, Scott tied for 27th, and he also tied for 34th in 2005 and missed the cut in 2000.

4. Henrik Stenson, Sweden — Once again carrying the burden of trying to become the first Swedish male to capture a golf major title, Stenson comes into the Open Championship off a tie for second in the BMW Championship in Germany two weeks ago. He tied for 19th in the Masters in addition to tying for fourth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, finishing solo fourth in the Valspar Championship and second behind Matt Every in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in consecutive events early this year. Stenson has three top-three finishes in the Open Championship, including second in 2013 behind Phil Mickelson at Muirfield and a tie for third in 2010, the last time the third major of the year was played at St. Andrews.

5. Dustin Johnson, United States — Probably the most talented player in the world without a major title, Johnson came up short again last month in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He had a putt to win on the final hole but wound up three-putting from 12 feet and finished one stroke behind Jordan Spieth. It was simply the latest major disappointment for Johnson, who has a victory in the WGC-Cadillac Championship among his seven top-10 finishes this season. Johnson has enjoyed several strong performances in the Open Championship, including a tie for 14th in 2010 at St. Andrews, a tie for second in 2011 at Royal St. George’s, a tie for ninth in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and a tie for 12th last year at Royal Liverpool.

6. Sergio Garcia, Spain — When Garcia was a rising star some 15 years ago, he figured to win multiple major titles, but incredibly he still is looking for his first. He has 19 top-10 finishes in the Grand Slam events, including eight in the Open Championship, so he can’t be overlooked this week at St. Andrews. Last year, he tied for second behind Rory McIlroy at Royal Liverpool, and on the Old Course he tied for 14th in 2010, tied for fifth in 2005 and tied for 36th in 2000. Garcia is in the midst of a solid season. He lost in a playoff to Rickie Fowler in the Players Championship, tied for second in the CIMB Classic, tied for 17th in the Masters and tied for 18th in the U.S. Open.

7. Phil Mickelson, United States — At 45, everything Lefty does in golf is geared toward the Grand Slam events, so it wouldn’t be surprising if could win one or two more. It seemed he might never win the Open Championship before he broke through two years ago at Muirfield for his fifth and latest major title, giving him three-fourths of the career Grand Slam. Mickelson also tied for second in 2011 at Royal St. George’s, and on the hallowed Old Course, he tied for 48th in 2010, tied for 60th in 2005 and tied for 11th in 2000. He has posted some strong results this season, tying for second in the Masters, tying for third in the FedEx St. Jude Classic and tying for fourth in the Wells Fargo Championship.

8. Tiger Woods, United States — Everyone is wondering if Woods only teased his fans when he finally showed some of his old form with three scores in the 60s in the Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago, although he only tied for 32nd. He had two of his greatest moments at St. Andrews, completing the career Grand Slam with an eight-stroke victory in the Open Championship in 2000, and coming back to claim a five-shot win in 2005. The last of Tiger’s 14 major titles came in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, and he tied for 23rd in 2010 at St. Andrews before tying for third in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and tying for sixth the next year at Muirfield.

9. Justin Rose, England — The bookies have the 2013 U.S. Open champion as the best bet to become the first Englishman to capture the Open Championship since Nick Faldo in 1992 at Muirfield. Surprisingly, though, Rose has not fared well in his home major, as his tie for fourth to finish as low amateur at the age of 18 in 1998 at Royal Birkdale remains his only top-10 finish. He didn’t even qualify for the tournament at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005, and he shot 70-77–147 to miss the cut by one stroke on the Old Course in 2010. Rose has played well this year, winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, tying for second in the Masters and losing in a playoff to David Lingmerth of Sweden.

10. Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa — One never knows what to expect from Oosthuizen, who has run hot and cold throughout his career. He was absolutely white-hot five years ago in the Open Championship at St. Andrews, running away with his only major title by seven strokes over England’s Lee Westwood. And last month in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, he opened with a 77, then set a tournament record by playing the last 54 holes in 66-66-67–199 to tie for second, one stroke behind Jordan Spieth. Oosthuizen followed that by missing the cut in the Travelers Championship and tying for 73rd in the Greenbrier Classic, but strangely he often plays his best when he comes in with no form at all.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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