The 143rd Open Championship begins this Thursday and the oldest tournament in professional golf returns to Royal Liverpool . The Merseyside course hosts it’s twelve Open Championship, the most recent of which coming in 2006 when Tiger Woods dominated the field on a severely baked out course using the driver just once during the entire four days. That victory came just months after his father, Earl, passed away and the victory was a fitting tribute to the man who taught Tiger the game of golf. Conditions look likely to be markedly different this year with rain forecast on all four days and breezier conditions compared to 2006. With in mind, it’s unlikely that anyone will threaten the 18 under par total and more likely a single figure under par total will suffice this week.
As was the case in 2006, the big story heading into this week surrounds Tiger Woods, this year being his return from back surgery in March. The surgery was required not only to prolong his career but also to allow him perform everyday activities pain-free. As such expectations for the remainder of the year are very much tempered by joint consideration of how often he will be able to tee it up. On paper a return to the scene of his last Open Championship victory will suit Woods but the consensus is that the course in 2006 played in an alien manner to how it would normally. It would be foolhardy to completely write off Tiger this week but his rustiness in missing the cut at Congressional on his return to action was telling and it may take him another couple of starts to get his edge back.
In my opinion this is the most open looking major championship with at least a dozen players going into the event with big chances for victory. World No 1 Adam Scott will have contrasting memories of this coastline after being foot perfect for 68 holes at Lytham before his much discussed collapse in the final four holes. Such memories can sometimes galvanize a player and Scott should be firmly in the equation this week. Henrik Stenson is in pursuit of Adam Scott ’s world No 1 spot and he too will enter this week with high expectations, the course should suit him though I am slightly concerned by the fact he hasn’t closed out one of the opportunities he’s had to pick up a victory in 2014. Picking the winner could be a poisoned chalice but three players have been picked to watch out for this week.
Graeme McDowell – McDowell is my top pick because the consensus is that the key to success at Hoylake is the ability to shape tee shots both ways with control. Additionally, whilst the wind isn’t forecast to be gale force, 10-12mph winds in the exposed locale of Royal Liverpool will provide a stiff challenge. This adds to the appeal of G-Mac who relishes tough conditions as evidenced by his final round 67 when successfully defending his French Open title earlier this month. The beauty of that victory is that McDowell won without playing his best golf tee to green, a facet of his game that has shone this year. His putter has held him back in 2014 but he was 2nd in putts per round in France. He held the opening round lead here in 2006 before falling away to an also ran finish but I feel he can improve on that this time.
Zach Johnson – It’s been an odd year for Johnson, after winning his first event of 2014, he somewhat lost his form in regard to getting into contention in tournaments. He did, however, continue to make cuts, his only missed cuts being at Augusta and in the Travellers Championship in late June. He broke that run last weekend though by being finishing in the runner up spot at John Deere Classic and that bodes well for this week. Up until 2012, Zach would not have been on many lists as an Open contender but back to back top-tens in this event show he has developed a method for success on the links. His style of play leads to him being underestimated as player but he’s already has a major tucked away after his victory at Augusta in 2007. I think has grown to love links golf and can continue his run of top-ten’s in the event.
Miguel Angel Jimenez – Charismatic, evergreen and hugely entertaining, Jimenez is firmly a favourite of the galleries wherever he tees it up. He continues to defy the age barrier with his performances on the European Tour as well as in marquee events around the world. His victory in the Spanish Open in May was his 13th since turning 40, he also won on his Champions Tour debut in America in April a week after his 4th place finish at Augusta. That finish at Augusta was his best career Masters performance and was his first top-five finish in a major since his 3rdplace finish in the 2001 Open. He will have the added incentive of knowing that a big finish will go a long way towards his goal of making the Ryder Cup team in a playing capacity.