Will golf fans see another new champion at the 2012 British Open?
Fifteen different golfers have won the past 15 grand slam tournaments. It offers a compelling storyline going into the British Open. There are a host of golfers who seem capable of coming out of Royal Lytham & St. Annes with a victory, and it is quite possible a new grand slam winner will arise for the 16th consecutive time.
These 10 golfers appear to be the most likely contenders to claim the Claret Jug this time around:
1. Tiger Woods
It does not matter to his critics that Woods has accumulated three PGA Tour wins or leads the FedEx Cup standings for 2012. They will point to his drought of major titles since the 2008 U.S. Open as evidence that the old Tiger has not returned. Woods, like at his previous two grand slams this year, will feel the pressure to get No. 15 to offer proof he is back. Woods is a 6-to-1 favorite to win. Living up to those expectations will hinge on how well he performs in his short game. Woods has improved his putting during the course of the year, but his wedge play could use some work. If he puts it together, he will be in contention the final day.
2. Lee Westwood
Westwood is one of only two golfers to claim top-10 finishes at both the Masters and the U.S. Open this year. He has a total of six top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in 2012 — highlighted by that third-place finish at the Masters. Westwood is a consistent golfer, and it is strange that he has not broken through and won a grand slam title so far in his career. One obstacle that could hold him back are knee and groin injuries he suffered at the French Open earlier this month. Count on Westwood keeping himself in contention to the end.
3. Graeme McDowell
It’s true that McDowell stumbled when he had a chance to force a playoff at the U.S. Open. But a second-place finish is still impressive and it is part of a solid year for McDowell. He has accumulated four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour and another pair of top-10 finishes on the European Tour in 2012. McDowell is consistent enough that he should be a threat through all four rounds.
4. Luke Donald
As the current No.-1 ranked golfer in the world, Donald is feeling the heat of justifying his lofty ranking with a major tournament win. He is still looking for his first career grand slam victory and some critics are questioning his ranking after he missed the cut at the U.S. Open. Donald has just one PGA Tour win to go along with four top-10 finishes this season. Still, he has the right tools to do well at the British Open. Donald’s driving ability will help him create favorable spots for his short game, where he is at his finest.
5. Padraig Harrington
Harrington holds distinction as the most recent golfer to win multiple grand slam titles. He dropped off the radar for a while after winning the British Open in 2007 and 2008 and the 2008 PGA Championship. Harrington has shown he is back in good form this season. He is the only other golfer besides Westwood to claim top-10 finishes at The Masters and the U.S. Open in 2012. Harrington tied for fourth at the U.S. Open and tied for eighth at The Masters.
6. Justin Rose
Rose could emerge as a darkhorse winner at the British Open. The course plays to his strengths as a golfer. He is accurate with his irons and possesses good scrambling ability to compensate for average putting. Rose has played steady golf in 2012, with five top-10 finishes and a victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
7. Phil Mickelson
Few players have been as streaky as Mickelson this year. But few of his fellow contenders are as well equipped to succeed at the British Open. As long as he isn’t too erratic on tee shots, Mickelson has a creative short game and mental toughness that will aid him in later rounds. He made a charge at eventual winner Darren Clarke in the 2011 British Open, making up five shots in a seven-hole stretch during the final round before fading back again.
8. Hunter Mahan
Mahan is another dark horse like Rose who could easily walk out with a victory. He is enjoying a strong year on the PGA Tour, with two victories and four top-10 finishes and just one missed cut. His powerful driving and precise putting keep him in contention in many tournaments and the same will be true this time around. Mahan is a golfer on the rise and is about due for a breakthrough win at a major.
9. Zach Johnson
If there is a course that fits Johnson’s game perfectly, Royal Lytham & St. Annes is it. Johnson does well on shorter courses like this one that favor accuracy over power. Johnson is no stranger to strong finishes in major tournaments. He claimed his first and only grand slam at The Masters in 2007. Johnson also tied for a third-place finish in the 2010 PGA Championship.
10. Rory McIlroy
Things have been trending in the wrong direction for McIlroy for some time. He has missed the cut several tournaments as of late — including the U.S. Open, where he went in as the defending champion. Still, McIlroy had a fine start to the year. He recorded top-5 finishes in four of his first five tournaments — highlighted by his triumph at the Honda Classic — and rose to No. 1 in the world rankings.
John Coon enjoys getting in a round from time to time in the Salt Lake City area when he is not covering golf as a freelance sports reporter