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.
The world's best — sans Tiger — are descending upon Sandwich, England, for the Open Championship at Royal St. Georges, a charming, quirky layout that features several blind shots and tricky crosswinds. It's where Ben Curtis pulled a shocking win in his first major appearance in 2003, and the layout is just unpredictable enough to produce another stunning result in 2011.
Right out of the gate, players must stay out of “The Kitchen,” a valley cutting the fairway roughly 250 yards off the tee. The approach needs to fly three cross bunkers in front of a green that falls away on the right.
Do You Remember?
Tiger Woods’ bid to win the 2003 Open was essentially derailed by his first tee shot, a miss 30 yards right that was lost, leading to a triple bogey 7.
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Although it was lengthened for the 2003 Open, this par 4 can still provide a birdie opportunity, if players can carry their drive 260 yards over the two fairway bunkers guarding the left side. The green rises above the fairway, tilting from back to front and falling off on either side.
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A new tee adds length to the only par 3 on the Open rotation without a bunker. Sand dunes surround a narrow green, dissected by a ridge. It was the third hardest hole in relation to par in 2003.
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Hitting the S-shaped fairway is difficult with a ferocious set of bunkers staring back at players along the right side of the fairway. A 270-yard carry over them is the ideal line. Anything left of that could find the bunker farther up the left side. Menacing slopes make putting a challenge. Anything long of the green is out of bounds.
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Normally, this dogleg left requires a conservative play off the tee, laying up short of the trouble that cuts the fairway and steering clear of the five pot bunkers on the left. But if a tailwind picks up, like it did in 2003, some players will bomb it over a sandy ridge. There is out of bounds to contend with up the right side from 170 yards and in.
Did You Know?
During the second round of the 1949 Open, Harry Bradshaw hit his ball into a broken beer bottle just off the fairway. Without a rules official nearby and fearing disqualification, he played the ball as it lay, smashing the bottle but advancing the ball 30 yards. Unsettled, it took him two more shots to hit the green. He ultimately lost to Bobby Locke in a playoff.
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Pros can take advantage of this short hole. Four bunkers ring a two-tiered green. A towering hill known as “The Maiden” sits behind the green.
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Despite being the longest hole on the course, it’s also the easiest, provided the pros execute a blind drive well enough from a new championship tee to miss the lone fairway bunker. Almost every player will have a green light to go for it in two. Six bunkers farther along are the only defenses against par.
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An intimidating uphill tee shot must skirt two bunkers up the right side. The hole swings to the right over an 80-yard-long patch of troublesome rough to a skinny undulating green protected by two greenside bunkers.
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The right-hand fairway bunker, once called “The Corsets,” isn’t the only concern off the new championship tee. Unfortunate bounces are a fact of life on rippling fairways like this one. Two cross bunkers at 70 yards shouldn’t be in play, unless a chop out of the dunes is necessary. The four greenside hazards are a factor. An erratic green falls off radically on the right.
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The fairway bunker left shouldn’t be in play much. It’s the approach to a green perched way above the fairway that will cause fits. Finding the four greenside bunkers is better than any miss over the green. Long is dead.
Do You Remember?
Leading the 1985 Open Championship at the time, Tom Kite went from bunker to bunker for a double bogey six, derailing his chances.
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Finding a green sandwiched by five bunkers is tough, but finding the hole is harder still. The green’s breaks are so baffling, new members are told never to concede even the shortest of putts.
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Although the shortest par 4 on the course, this dogleg right is peppered with nine bunkers created to cause concern from every angle. Cutting too much of the corner brings the five cross bunkers short of the green into play as well as some nasty lies from untidy land.
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A hidden fairway narrows considerably at the 260-yard mark, choked by two fairway bunkers on either side. The approach to a narrow green 42 yards long can change dramatically depending on the pin. Out-of-bounds markers lie beyond the green.
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“Suez” is the signature test of the layout, named after the canal cutting across the fairway roughly 320 yards off the tee. More dangerous than the water are the out-of-bounds markers running the entire length of the right side. Four bunkers litter the zone where most players lay up their second shot.
Do You Remember?
Bernhard Langer made a 7, one of 22 double bogeys or worse during the 1993 Open. The blunder left him three behind champion Greg Norman. In 2003, Davis Love hit one of the white stakes, which kept his ball in bounds, propelling him to a lead after two rounds.
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A new championship tee brings the three bunkers left and two right more into play, constricting the landing zone. Three greenside bunkers are chain-linked together in front, blocking any traditional links shot trying to bounce in. Steep drop-offs characterize the green.
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Although the shortest hole on the course, a sloppy shot could alter the tournament, like it did for Thomas Bjorn in 2003. Leading the championship in the final round, he found one of the seven bunkers surrounding the green, eventually carding a double-bogey five.
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The two fairway bunkers are innocent bystanders compared to the mischievous swales farther down the fairway. Two bunkers flank a plateau green on either side. Missed shots that fall short trickle down the slope.
Do You Remember?
Ben Curtis bogeyed this hole, one of three back-nine bogeys in the final round of the 2003 Open, but his up-and-down for par on the final hole would prove to be enough to capture his only major championship.
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Finding an awkwardly shaped fairway, while avoiding two fairways bunkers and two cross bunkers farther up, is paramount. Misguided approach shots tend to collect in “Duncan’s Hollow” left of the green. The depression is named after George Duncan, who failed to get up and down for par at the 1922 Open, handing the title to Walter Hagen.
Need evidence of Tiger Woods' continuing hold over sports media types, even while he's sidelined with injury? Tiger tantalized us when word of a mysterious announcement leaked via Twitter. Comeback? Retirement? Surgery? Scandal? Nope. None of the above. No "decision" forthcoming; Jim Gray was nowhere in sight. Turns out our hero and his agent, Mark Steinberg, are leaving IMG for Excel Sports Management. Yawn. Still. it must be nice for Tiger to know that he can still send golf scribes scurrying for their laptops.
Parity, in the post-Tiger Woods era, is alive and kicking. Not counting the season’s first two majors, 10 straight PGA Tour events have been decided by one shot or in a playoff. The difference between a two-year exemption and obscurity could be just a missed chip or putt.
Without Woods’ dominating presence, golf has opened up to the masses. And the rank and file continue to climb all over each other each week trying to get to the top.
The trend started after Phil Mickelson’s two-shot win at the Houston Open prior to The Masters. After Charl Schwartzel’s surprising birdie romp to the green jacket, things got interesting. Rookie Brendan Steele fended off two players by one shot to win his first Tour event at the Valero Texas Open. From there, the next four events went to playoffs: Brandt Snedeker stunned current world No. 1 Luke Donald at the Heritage, Bubba Watson beat Webb Simpson at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Lucas Glover ousted former Clemson teammate Jonathan Byrd at the Wells Fargo Championship and K.J. Choi beat David Toms at The Players Championship. Toms recovered to beat Charlie Wi by a shot the following week at The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
Rookie Keegan Bradley outlasted Ryan Palmer in a playoff for his first Tour win at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Steve Stricker earned the biggest victory of his career at the Memorial, beating Brandt Jobe and Matt Kuchar by a shot. In his 356th start, Harrison Frazar won the FedEx St. Jude Classic over Robert Karlsson in a playoff. And Fredrik Jacobson got his first win by finishing one stroke better than Ryan Moore and John Rollins at the Travelers. Golf has become must-see TV around 4 p.m. Sundays because the back nine of every tournament has been filled with fireworks. All these down-to-the-wire finishes have been good for the game as it searches for an identity without many true superstars.
The entire golf world is talking about the 22-year-old U.S. Open champ.
“I couldn’t ask for much more, and I’m just so happy to be holding this trophy. I know how good Tiger was in 2000 to win by 15 in Pebble. I was trying to go out there and emulate him in some way. I played great for four days, and I couldn’t be happier.” – Rory McIlroy
“Congrats to Rory. What a performance from start to finish. Enjoy the win. Well done.” – Tiger Woods