The Open Championship Returns to St. Andrews

St Andrews Old Course

St Andrews Old Course

Last month I wrote about the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. Open, and for good reason. When you hold one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world on a course that looks like it should host the British Open and was a granite mine all the way back in 2007, there are bound to be some question marks. While Chambers Bay golf course is the source of most of the uncertainty surrounding the 2015 U.S. Open, the British Open offers just as many—albeit completely different—questions.

Chambers Bay and St. Andrews, the 2015 British Open host, are both links-style courses, but that is where the similarities end. While no one knows for certain what to expect at Chambers Bay, the Old Course at St. Andrews is probably the most well-known golf course in the world. While the players should enter that tournament knowing exactly what to expect from the course, nobody really knows what to expect from many of the game’s top players.

It is really unusual for so many of the top players to enter the summer in such a state of disarray, which should make the first two days of the British Open should be completely fascinating. In addition to seeing who makes the cut and who positions themselves to make a run on the weekend, we will be watching to see which of the top players are able to put things together when they need it most despite entering the tournament on uncertain ground. Those players are:

Rory McIlroy

If Rory’s 2015 British Open is half as interesting as his 2010 performance, he will be must-see television. A then-21-year-old McIlroy roared out of the gate with an opening-round 63, which tied the record for the lowest round ever at a major championship. He followed that up with an 80 on Friday, tied for the highest round of the tournament. He bounced back with rounds of 69 and 68 on the weekend to finish in a tie for third.
McIlroy has since won four majors and is first in the Official World Golf Rankings, but he enters the summer season looking anything but the best player in the world. After winning the Wells Fargo Championship, McIlroy missed the cut at the BMW PGA Championship and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation. The best player in the world missed the cut at his own event thanks to shooting an opening-round 80. Unlike the 2010 British Open, there was no 63 to balance things out.
McIlroy has since said his game is fine and his poor play was simply the result of fatigue. That is certainly plausible, as the Irish Open was his fifth tournament in as many weeks. Fatigue should not be a factor at the British Open, but rust could be. McIlroy is scheduled to play just once between the U.S. and British Opens—the Scottish Open July 8-11. Last year the Irish Open was the week after the U.S. Open, giving McIlroy two tournaments to prepare for the British. Could it be the change in schedule hurts him in the long run?

Tiger Woods

Tiger’s struggles have been well-documented, but ignoring him at St. Andrews would likely be a mistake. Tiger won two of the last three British Opens at St. Andrews and tied for 23rd there in 2010. Tiger’s only good result so far this season was his T17 at Augusta, another venue that has treated him well over the years. Tiger could easily be in the mix on the back nine Sunday.

Phil Mickelson

After struggling through most of 2014, Mickelson has shown some signs of life. He finished second at the PGA Championship and The Masters and tied for fourth at the Wells Fargo Championship. He also missed the cut at THE PLAYERS Championship and limped home to a T65 at the Memorial Tournament. Mickelson has made the cut in all four of his British Open starts at St. Andrews, but has never finished better than T11. He seems unlikely to best that this season, though you can never count out the five-time major champion.

Justin Rose

Rose has been as up and down as anyone this year. In his five tournaments leading up to The Masters he finished no better than T37, then was a runner-up at Augusta. On the year he has three top-twos and four missed cuts.

Rickie Fowler

The final three players I want to touch on all tied for 14th at the British Open in 2010. That is only a small part of their intrigue. Last season Fowler joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players ever to finish in the top five in all four majors in the same year. The difference, of course, is Fowler still has never won a major. Fowler has shown an uncanny ability in recent years to play his best golf in the biggest tournaments, but it is fair to wonder how long that can last. Since winning THE PLAYERS Championship he finished 30th at the Irish Open and missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament. He is certainly capable of flipping the switch again at the majors, but he needs to play much better than he has his last two times out.

Sergio Garcia

His missed cut at the Irish Open didn’t garner as many headlines as Rory’s, but it was pretty significant. It broke a streak of eight consecutive top-40 finishes that included a tie for second at THE PLAYERS Championship. Garcia tied for second in the 2014 British Open, and tied for 14th in 2010, but missing the cut in Ireland is not a good way to prepare for St. Andrews.

Dustin Johnson

Since he came back from six months off, everything has been feast or famine for Dustin Johnson. He has six top-10s in 13 events but also missed two cuts, tied for 69 at THE PLAYERS Championship and withdrew from the FedEx St. Jude Classic Thursday due to an “illness” though he was well over par at the time and likely would have missed the cut. Johnson could finish in the top 10 at St. Andrews or miss the cut altogether; both results seem equally likely.

Adam Scott

He was the number one player in the world rankings at this time last year but has fallen all the way to 11th after failing to finish inside the top 20 in seven consecutive tournaments. Scott is a major champion and finished T27 at St. Andrews in 2010, but he is an afterthought coming into the summer.