10 Players to Watch: 145th Open Championship

  1. Dustin Johnson, United States — It’s hard to bet against DJ, not only because he won the U.S. Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in his last two starts, but because of the way he has played all season. It took him a while to win for the ninth consecutive season, longest active streak on the PGA Tour, but he has 10 results in the top 10 and 13 in the top 25 in 15 tournaments without missing the cut. Johnson is making his eighth appearance in the oldest championship in the world and he was in the chase all the way before tying for second, three shots behind Darren Clarke 2011 at Royal St. George’s. DJ, who has finished in the top 10 in four of the last five majors, was tied for the lead with Clarke until driving out of bounds on the 14th hole.
  1. Jason Day, Australia — The No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings will try to bounce back from his back nine meltdown when it appeared he was heading to victory in the U.S. Open at Oakmont. He also faltered in the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but finished in a tie for third that was his eighth top-10 finish of the season, including three victories. Day has been the best player in the world since last July by winning seven times in that span, including his first major title in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits last August. He has five top-10 results in the last six majors, including a tie for fourth in the Open Championship last year at St. Andrews, missing the playoff won by Zach Johnson after leading after 54 holes. That was his first top 10 in five Open starts.
  1. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland — Although he hasn’t been as dominant as he was two years ago, when the was the best player in the world, Rory has had his moments this year, including a victory in the Irish Open and seven finishes in the top 10 on both major tours. He rallied to tie for third in the Scottish Open, but might still be smarting from missing the cut in the U.S. Open last month at Oakmont. McIlroy has four major titles to his credit and won the Open Championship the last time he played it, in 2014, by two strokes over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia of Spain at Royal Liverpool. He has six top-10 results in the majors in the last three years, but missed his title defense last year at St. Andrews because of an ankle injury sustained playing soccer.
  1. Jordan Spieth, United States — Despite victories in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Dean & DeLuca Invitation, and a tie for second in the Masters, it’s been something of an up-and-down season for Spieth after his brilliant 2015 took him to No. l in the world. He tied for 57th in the Memorial Tournament before tying for 37th in his title defense in the U.S. Open, but bounced back with a tie for third in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in his last start. After winning the Masters and U.S. Open last year, Spieth was in the hunt all the way to the finish in the Open Championship at St. Andrews. After making a 50-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to tie for the lead, he made bogey on the infamous road hole and tied for fourth, one shot out of the playoff won by Zach Johnson.
  1. Adam Scott, Australia — Much of the talk is before the Grand Slam events is about the best players without a major title, but Scott is among the very best with only one. When he became the first Aussie to win the Masters in 2013, there was talk that it might open the floodgates, but it hasn’t happened. Scott had victories in the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship to start the Florida Swing early this year, but he finished out of the top 10 in seven consecutive events until tying for 10th in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in his last start. The Aussie is making his 16th start in the Open Championship and has finished in the top 10 each of the last four years, including second in 2012, when he blew the 54-hole lead with a 75 and wound up two shots behind Ernie Els.
  1. Rickie Fowler, United States — When Rickie finished in the top five of all four majors two years ago, it appeared he was going to be a fixture in the Grand Slam events, but it hasn’t worked out that way. In fact, he has failed to finish in the top 10 in the last six majors, missing the cut three times. Perhaps he is putting too much pressure on himself after getting so close. Fowler missed the cut in three straight events recently, but seemed to be back on his game when he tied for 10th his last time out in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He has finished in the top 10 twice in five appearances in the Open Championship, including a tie for second two years ago at Royal Liverpool, where he wound up two strokes behind Rory McIlroy. Fowler also tied for fifth in 2011 at Royal St. George’s.
  1. Henrik Stenson, Sweden — The big Swede broke a winless streak that lasted nearly two years when he captured the BMW International Open in Germany late last month, and he bounced back from an opening 76 last week to tie for 13th in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. This will be his latest chance to become the first Swedish male to win a major golf title and he has finished in the top 10 on nine occasions in the Grand Slam events, but none of those have come in the last two years. Stenson is playing in the Open Championship for the 12th time and his best chance to win came in 2013, when he couldn’t keep up with Phil Mickelson down the stretch and finished solo second, three strokes back at Muirfield. He also tied for third in 2008 and 2010.
  1. Sergio Garcia, Spain — Another player near the top of the list of best golfers who have never won a major, Sergio has finished in the top 10 of Grand Slam events a whopping 21 times without lifting a trophy. The latest was a tie for fifth last month in the U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he tied for fifth. Garcia has had some other good results lately, including a victory in the AT&T Byron Nelson, third in the Open de Espana and a tie for fifth in the BMW International Open. He will be making his 20th start in the Open Championship and he finished two shots back in a tie for second behind Rory McIlroy at Royal Liverpool two years ago, and was solo second in 2007, when he lipped out a 10-foot putt to win on the 72nd hole and lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie.
  1. Phil Mickelson, United States — Lefty hasn’t won since his unlikely victory in the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield, which gave him three-fourths of the Career Grand Slam. He has had chances to win this year with runner-up finishes in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the FedEx St. Jude Classic, and last week he closed with a 66 to wind up 13th in the Scottish Open. Mickelson used that mostly as links practice for this week at Royal Troon, where he finished third, one stroke out of the playoff in which Todd Hamilton defeated Ernie Els in 2004. This will be Lefty’s 19th appearance in the Open Championship, and he also finished three shots behind Darren Clarke in 2011 at Royal St. George’s. Mickelson has only those three top-10 results in the oldest championship in the world.
  1. Danny Willett, England — The Masters champion flew under the radar before his surprise victory at Augusta, and he isn’t getting very much attention heading into the third major of the year on home soil. However, this is a guy who must be considered, because he has claimed three of his five professional victories since last July and he leads the European Tour’s season-long Race to Dubai thanks to five finishes in the top four. Willett, No. 9 in the World Golf Rankings, did not crack the top 10 in his first nine appearances in the major championships until he tied for sixth last year at St. Andrews and he obviously took what he learned to Augusta. This will be his fifth start in the Open Championship and he missed the cut in two of his first three, but tied for 15th in 2013 at Muirfield, pulling his game together after opening with a 75.

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

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