Rory’s dominant win at the U.S. Open unleashed a torrent of Tiger comparisons, which are probably premature but not all that far-fetched. McIlroy has been a factor at the last four majors, showing his ability to contend on every type of track and displaying a remarkably complete and well-rounded game. One caveat: Rory’s agent, Chubby Chandler, says his star client’s game isn’t that well-suited to the Open. Sandbag much, Chubster?
His nearly flawless play this season continued with a four-shot win at the Barclays Scottish Open, the European’s Tour’s Open tune-up. But the world’s top-ranked golfer needs to justify his ranking on a major stage — he has only two top 10s in his last 15 major championship appearances.
The 38-year-old’s major window won’t stay open forever. Westwood has done everything but win at golf’s biggest events, posting top-3 finishes in six of his last 11 major appearances. That frustrating ledger of near-misses has to take a toll at some point.
Lefty’s record of futility at the British (only one career top 10) is one of golf’s great mysteries. Yes, his high ball flight can be troublesome in the unpredictable winds of Great Britain, but a guy of his creativity, particularly around the greens, should thrive in the Open. If he could ever get comfortable on the greens, he could contend.
Ladies and gentlemen, America’s best player. The fact that many of you have only vaguely heard of him speaks to the current state of American golf. That’s not to diminish his accomplishments this season, though. Watney is currently fending off fellow American Steve Stricker in the FedExCup points standings, and his win at the WGC-Cadillac this season shows he can beat an elite field.
Many of us anointed Kaymer as golf’s Next Big Thing after his win at the PGA Championship, but 2011 has been a bit of a disappointment, even though he did grab the top spot in the computer for a time. He hasn’t won since January, and he missed the cut at the Masters and failed to factor at the U.S. Open.
You might be asking what this phenom-turned-disappointment is doing on this list. Well, Sergio’s been sneaky-good this season, tying for seventh at the U.S. Open and qualifying for the British with a runner-up finish at the BMW in Europe. He’s making his 49th consecutive appearance, the longest active streak in golf, and he has six career top 10s at golf’s oldest major.
What’s not to like about this kid? He’s played in four career majors and finished second in two of them, and 10th in a third. He’s crazy talented and utterly fearless. He could be hampered by his lack of links experience — this is only his second Open — but don’t rule him out.
The 2010 U.S. Open champion has been hit-or-miss so far this season — mostly miss — but his 69-69 finish at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional proved he still has the skills to compete in a major. One thing’s for sure: He won’t take himself too seriously, whatever happens.
We’re still marveling at the birdie binge Schwartzel used to win the Masters, but Sir Charl isn’t a one-hit wonder. He followed up his Masters win with a T9 at the U.S. Open, showing staying power. He doesn’t have a history of links success, but he didn’t have much of a Masters record before this year, either. He could make it back-to-back British Open wins for South Africa, following last year’s unexpected win by Louis Oosthuizen.
Ian Poulter may have poked a sleeping Tiger by announcing that Woods wouldn't finish in the top 5 at Augusta. "Poulter's always right, isn't he?" Tiger said. "My whole idea is to try to win the tournament. That's what I'm trying to do."
2 of 10
Defending Masters champ Mickelson fired a warning shot that should have everyone’s attention with his win at the Shell Houston Open, where he had a 63-65 weekend. Lefty gets up for this one unlike any other. A fourth green jacket would tie him with Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
3 of 10
The Englishman ascended to No. 1 in the world late last year for the first time, only to lose the ranking to Martin Kaymer. He hasn't quite lived up to expectations in 2011, but he's posted top-3 finishes in four of his last five majors, including a runner-up at Augusta in 2010. The only thing missing from his resume is his first major championship.
4 of 10
Last time they held a major, Kaymer came out on top, and he's since ascended to the top of the World Golf Ranking. The 2010 PGA champion and European Tour money leader has the game to win anywhere.
5 of 10
He has only two career top 10s at Augusta, but he seems to have turned a corner. He beat Kaymer 3 & 2 in the finals of the Accenture Match Play in February for the biggest win of his career.
6 of 10
DJ has all the tools, but does he have the maturity to win amid the crushing Sunday pressure? He essentially blew two majors in 2010, and it remains to be seen if those failures will have any lingering effect.
7 of 10
Is this America’s top player at the moment? His results in 2011 — a win and four top 10s in five tournaments — say yes. He’ll have the chance to prove it at The Masters.
8 of 10
The Georgia Tech alum was low amateur at Augusta way back in 1998 but truly emerged in 2010, and he always plays well in Georgia. He has six top 10s in eight events so far in 2011.
9 of 10
Rory McIlroy has a very good chance to become the youngest winner of a major championship since a 21-year-old Tiger won the 1997 Masters. His torrid start on Thursday indicates that he’s in it to win it — if not this year, then soon.