Five things to watch at British Open

This week's British Open at Royal St. George's in Sandwich, England, likely will add an extra item to the eventual winner's keys-to-victory list.

Shot making, putting, patience ... and just a wee bit of dumb luck.

The links course in Southern England has been equated to playing golf on the moon. Greg Norman once suggested the Royal Air Force might have used a few of the fairways for bombing practice.

This all suggests that anyone attempting to handicap the field could use a little luck.

Five storylines to watch

1. What will Rory do next? Rory McIlroy has not played competitively since last month's run-away victory at the U.S. Open. The ease of his eight-shot victory sent golf into hyper drive celebrating its newest greatest player.

Now McIlroy, a 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, will be expected to again perform at the same high level, or lose some luster.

Former European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie told reporters at last week's Scottish Open he expects McIlroy to tee off "mentally tired" as a result of attention and congratulations he will receive by making the British his first appearance since Congressional.

Countryman Graeme McDowell told reporters, "He'll still be living three or four weeks ago at Congressional."

Still, European oddsmakers have established McIlroy as the favorite.

2. The door is open, come on in: This is no longer Tiger Woods' PGA Tour. That's not exactly breaking news. But with the game's once-dominant player about to miss his second straight major and moving toward two full years without a PGA Tour win, this week at Royal St. George's reinforces the fact a new era in men's golf has arrived.

Stake your claim.

3. History rocks: For its 140th playing, the British Open returns to Royal St. George's for the 14th time and first since 2003, when American unknown Ben Curtis stunned the golf world.

Curtis was ranked 396th in the world when he won by one shot over Vijay Singh and Thomas Bjorn.

It was not the first time Royal St. Geroge's left its mark on the game.

It also is the course where Norman had four rounds in the 60s, including a final-day 64, to win the 1993 British, and where, in 1985, Peter Jacobsen executed a prototype shoulder tackle on the 72nd hole to take down a streaker.

4. Prove it: An odd thing is taking place in golf, a sport that competitors say is defined by major championships.

Among the top 10-ranked players in the world, only four have claimed majors. Particularly head-scratching, included among the major have-nots are Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, respectively No. 1 and No. 2.

No. 3 Martin Kaymer (2010 PGA), No. 4 McIlroy (last month's U.S. Open) and No. 9 McDowell (2010 U.S. Open) each have one major.

That leaves No. 6 Phil Mickelson (three Masters, one PGA) as the only player in the world's top 10 with multiple majors.

Remind us again why majors are supposed to be the yardstick of success.

5. It's just un-American:The major championships are not about the U.S. anymore.

"This is the first time we've gone to a major championship where the Americans are not the dominant story for the American TV audience," ESPN commentator Mike Tirico said on a conference call last week.

"What I mean by that, you go through that whole stretch with Tiger from 2000 to 2008 winning I think 12 of 30 majors. Well, since then, Americans have only won three majors: Mickelson, Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink at Turnberry in '09."

Five players to watch

1. The field: It was not very long ago that the arrival of a major championship brought with it a single question: "Would you rather take Tiger or the field?" The popular answer was Woods.

Now, with Woods gone and just about forgotten, here's a new question: "Would you rather take the field or the group of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy or Martin Kaymer -- the top four ranked players in the world?

Not so fast. The group has a combined two majors among them. The defending Open champ is Louis Oosthuizen.

Yeah, everybody saw that one coming.

2. Luke Donald: If the No. 1 ranked player in the world is not a guy to keep an eye on in a major, why is he ranked No. 1?

He might be feeling the pressure to prove it.

The Englishman, who played at Northwestern, won the World Match Play and has eight top-10 finishes in eight of his last PGA Tour events, including at tie for fourth at the Masters. He did, however, struggle at the U.S. Open, finishing 45th.

3. Jason Day: A year ago the 23-year-old Australian ranked 72nd in the world and had never played in a major championship.

He finished 60th in last year' British, getting his first taste of a major, and in the three since, has distinguished himself as one of the game's up-and-coming young players. Day tied for 10th at last year's PGA and followed with runner-up finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open.

He now ranks No. 7.

"It's been a whirlwind since last year, from scratching the Top 50 to No. 7 in the world now,'' Day told reporters during last week's John Deere. "It's pretty amazing.''

4. Martin Kaymer: In three appearances, Kaymer, 26, has never missed a British Open cut. Last year at St. Andrews he finished tied for seventh.

After winning last year's PGA, Kaymer began this year by winning in Abu Dhabi and finishing second in the WCG-Accenture Match Played to take the world No. 1 ranking.

He has cooled off slightly since, but that only suggests it's time.

5. Lee Westwood: If the golf gods have a heart -- it has long been assumed they do not -- Westwood finally gets the major championship he deserves.

Eight times the 38-year-old Englishman has finished in the top five of a major. He has been third or better in three of the last seven he has played -- including a runner-up in last year's British. Dating to 2008, he has two seconds and four thirds.

Five who could surprise

1. Sergio Garcia: You remember Sergio? Spaniard. Lots of promise. Another in golf's line of Next Big Things. Well, he's 31 now and hasn't done diddly in a long, long time.

Still, Garcia will be making his 49th consecutive major championship appearance and he has 16 top 10s, including three seconds.

Personal issues, putting problems and a loss of confidence have taken away much of his swagger, but the hot-blooded one still has a creative game, and something suggests he just might be close to re-finding a groove.

2. Phil Mickelson: The most popular American on tour, a four-time major champion and No. 6 in the world, reduced to being listed as a player who might surprise rather than topping the list of favorites?


Truth is, if Mickelson makes the cut, some might consider it a surprise.

Lefty doesn't do the British well. In 17 Open Championship appearances, he has only one top 10 -- at Troon in 2004. He has missed the cut three times and eight times has finished 40th or worse.

"The biggest reason is the greens," Mickelson told reporters last week at the Scottish Open, where he was hoping to begin adjusting to the European game. "I have not putted well. The grass is a little bit more coarse, a little thicker, has a little bit more effect, and you need to putt with less break and more aggression is what I've come to find.

"I'm going to try to do that and see if that doesn't combat some of the issues that I've had putting here."

The first step to recovery is admitting to the problem.

3. Jeff Overton: The 28-year-old Indiana Hoosier's best finishes on the PGA Tour are four seconds.

Doesn't matter. As a surprise Ryder Cup team member last year, he stepped up big, turning "Boom Baby" into a golf catch phrase after holing a fairway approach.

He hits the ball a ton and has a tie for 13th and tie for 11th in his last two British visits.

4. Jonathan Byrd: He likes the challenge of links golf courses. That's half the battle -- at least for an American.

The fact Byrd, a former Clemson Tiger, is a three-time PGA Tour winner, including this year's Hyundai Tournament of Champions, only adds to his case.

5. Padraig Harrington: The three-time major champion -- including the 2007 and 2008 Open Championships -- spent more than 300 consecutive weeks ranked among the world's top 10.

Now he's 39 and has fallen out of the top 50.

Harrington, however, responds differently on a links course. His Open wins at Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale should bring back a level of confidence.

Besides, on a golf course that is heavy on a little bit of luck, who better than the guy who sounds like the Lucky Charms character?

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