143rd British Open Championship Preview

Published 07/11 2014 03:05PM

Updated 07/11 2014 03:07PM

He hit the ball well in his return from back surgery at Congressional, but his short game was rusty and he missed the cut by four strokes. His victory at Royal Liverpool, also referred to as Hoylake, was his second straight Open Championship title, and third overall.

Woods won three more majors after that, but none since the 2008 U.S. Open. Since then, he has battled a myriad of injuries and changed his swing, again. Woods can adjust his game to various conditions in which the Open Championship is played. Will his game be sharp enough is the biggest question.

As with Woods, there are plenty of questions surrounding the defending champion, Phil Mickelson. He started the year with a runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi, but hasn't finished better than tied for 11th since.

With no questions about his health, Mickelson's play has been confounding. He has struggled for most of the year, but he returns to a championship which he finally figured out.

Though he missed the cut two years ago, Mickelson tamed Muirfield last year, winning the Open Championship for the first time. He had finished second three years ago and has been somewhat hit or miss recently, but his record is far better than it had been.

Woods and Mickelson have been giants in the game over the last two decades, but obviously have questions about their games. Will that open the door for a newcomer, or will one of the other reigning major champions conquer Hoylake?

The reigning major champions -- Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer -- enter this championship in varying degrees of form. Dufner has missed the cut in his last two starts, and he doesn't have the best record at the Open Championship.

Watson had a hot stretch earlier this year, which included his second Masters title. But he has cooled off lately, and like Dufner, doesn't have the best record at the Open. Watson has made the cut in three of his five British Open starts, but hasn't cracked the top 20.

Then there is Kaymer. He dominated the U.S. Open to claim his second major title to go along with his 2010 PGA Championship win. He is as hot as anyone entering the week, and has a solid record at the Open Championship. The German contended in 2010 and 2011, but struggled in both final rounds.

So who does that leave? Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed or Matt Kuchar have been among the best players in the 2013-14 season, but the Open Championship isn't always won by the best player.

Walker won three of the first 13 events this season, but his best finish since was a share of sixth at the Players Championship. Reed has a pair of wins as well, and pronounced himself one of the best in the world after winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Reed has missed the cut in five of his 10 starts since that win, but did have his mind elsewhere during that tough stretch as his wife gave birth to the couples first child. All is well on that front and he has shot par or better in seven of his last eight rounds. Tough to know what he'll do in his first Open Championship start.

As for Kuchar, he has been the steadiest player on the PGA Tour this year with nine top-10 finishes in 17 starts. He may have a solid record this season, but Kuchar has only played all four rounds at the Open Championship in three of his nine starts. However, those three have come in the last four years and he has finished inside the top 30 all three times. Kuchar is hit-or-miss, like Mickelson, at the Open Championship.

That is a look at just a few of the players competing this week. Will the winner come from the small group? It is possible, but the Open Championship may be the most wide-open of any of the major championships.

We could see an out-of-nowhere-winner like Ben Curtis or Michael Campbell, or we could see Ernie Els or Woods return to their major championship winning ways.

Royal Liverpool is hosting just its second open in the last 46 years. Prior to Woods winning there in 2006, the last champion at Hoylake was Robert De Vicenzo in 1967.

Those two posted winning scores of 18- and 10-under par, so Hoylake is susceptible to low scores, but as always that is weather dependent. The last two Opens at Hoylake have been played under firm, fast conditions. The long range weather looks to be damp for three of the four days, with light winds throughout.

A soft course could open the door for any number of players, and little wind means the bombers like Watson and Dustin Johnson could attempt to overpower the course.

Kaymer's play at Pinehurst could be useful at Hoylake. He putted from off the green throughout the week and it worked like a charm. That type of play is normally good at the Open Championship, but if there are damp conditions, that might take away that type of play.

Maybe it could be another Argentine like De Vicenzo that wins. Angel Cabrera, who just won his first regular PGA Tour event to go with his two major championship titles, finished seventh at Hoylake in 2006.

As I said earlier, the Open Championship is the most wide-open of the three majors. Trying to predict the winner is like trying to predict the weather in the British Isles, nearly impossible.

Let's hope the playing conditions aren't as difficult.

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