— Jason Day
It's not quite fellow countryman Greg Norman's Saturday Slam of 1986 (when The Shark held the lead after 54 holes in all four majors, but won only the British), but the 23-year-old Day is halfway to a run of runner-up finishes. He shared second place at the Masters, where he closed with a 68 with birdies on the final two holes, and then earned invisible next-best honors at the U.S. Open despite playing his last 45 holes in bogey-free 10-under par, only to finish eight strokes adrift of Rory McIlroy's record pace. With top 10s in five of his last six starts (entering the John Deere Classic), he has vaulted to seventh in the world ranking and will be attempting to be the first Australian to win the Claret Jug since Norman's second title in 1993.
The world's top-ranked golfer finally ended his string of consecutive top 10s at 10 with a forgettable T-45 at the U.S. Open. He remains without a top 10 in that major in eight starts. Meanwhile, it has been a tale of two careers at the British, where he missed his first five cuts (including at Royal St. George's in 2003) before linking together five paydays. This includes a share of fifth place at Turnberry in 2009 and a T-11 at St. Andrews last year. Donald's dogged short game will save pars in his native England this week, but look for him to have an elevated number of birdie opportunities. After several years of squandering low numbers off the tee, he has been more consistent than ever in hitting fairways and greens.
He went wire-to-wire for his first major championship, shattering the U.S. Open record in the process at 16-under 268 at Congressional. He also shared or held the outright lead after every round at the Masters before his back-nine meltdown to finish tied for 15th. He shared third place at last year's British at St. Andrews, where he led after the first round with a 63, matching the all-time low in any major, and also placed T-3 at the PGA Championship. Overall, he has played the last four majors in 38-under. And he turned 22 years old just two months ago. The last to win the U.S. and British Opens in the same year was Tiger Woods in 2000.
A double threat of consistency and the knack of being able to light up any golf course -- he's one of three with multiple wins on the PGA Tour this year, and they occurred at seriously different tracks in Doral and Aronimink -- he's rapidly climbing the list of best never to have won a major, not that he hasn't had his chances. His closing 81 at Whistling Straits at last year's PGA Championship might have received more attention had it not been for Dustin Johnson's infamous gaffe, but Watney led that tournament outright after 54 holes, and that's a fact with which he has had to deal with since. He ranks inside the top five on tour in total driving, ball-striking and putting, and also owns a 3-for-3 record at the British, including a share of seventh at St. Andrews a year ago.
The undisputed active best player never to have won a major. His share of third place at Congressional was his fifth top-three finish in his last seven starts in majors, two of which are the last two British Opens. Entering the week of the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, he has finished no lower than T-11 in his last seven starts going back to the Masters. Enough said.
Originating from a continent that has produced tremendous wind players and short-game artists, you wouldn't figure an Aussie that has been one of the PGA Tour's best putters since joining the circuit in 2003 -- coincidentally the last year that Royal St. George's hosted a British Open -- to own a 0-for-5 record in this major. However, Baddeley's game tee-to-green has been, well, bad; that is, until this year. His return to coach Dale Lynch is paying big-time dividends. Baddeley is hitting the most greens in regulation of his career. He has also employed Andy Sutton to be his caddie for the British. Sutton is a local that helped guide Ben Curtis to victory here in '03.
If you haven't been paying attention, then you may be surprised to learn that the Spaniard is relevant again. Since a self-imposed, nine-week sabbatical following the PGA Championship last year, he has posted 11 top 25s in 17 starts, five of which have resulted in top 10s. This includes a T-7 at the U.S. Open at Congressional and a solo second at the BMW International Open the week after, both of which just might have been the result of unfortunate motivation created by the death of his idol, Seve Ballesteros, on May 7. Given his renown ball-striking ability and Ballesteros-inspired creativity around greens, the British Open has always been Garcia's best opportunity to break through in a major. His T-10 at Royal St. George's in 2003 is one of six top 10s in the event. (He has 10 top 10s in the other three majors combined.)
Similar to Lucas Glover's fortune of getting slotted in the late-early draw of the U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2009, the South African reached the midpoint of last year's British Open at St. Andrews in 12-under-par 132, well before winds north of 40 miles per hour challenged the opposite draw, and even suspending play for 65 minutes mid-afternoon on Friday. Oosthuizen would go in the books as the outright leader by five after 36 holes. After a third-round 69, he held a four-stroke margin entering the final round, ultimately winning by seven despite a closing 71. He led the field in fairways hit (55) and birdies (20), but he also ranked a stout fourth in distance off the tee, T8 in greens in regulation and T-3 in putts taken.
He has zero weaknesses. Since lunging at the finish line of the Masters with birdies on his final four holes to win by two, his only legitimate hiccup was a missed cut at Wentworth for the BMW PGA Championship. He'll be gunning to be the first since Tiger Woods in 2005 to win the British in the same year as the Masters. Schwartzel hasn't competed anywhere since sharing ninth place at the U.S. Open, where he closed with a bogey-free 66. While only 26 years old, the South African will be making his seventh start in the British Open. His first career start in a major was as an 18-year-old at Royal St. George's in 2003; he missed the cut.
If you're looking for a sleeper in your pool, you can do much worse than this first-time British Open participant. He's in the midst of a breakout season in what is his third on the PGA Tour, with five top 10s, seven more top 25s and nearly $2.5 million in earnings. The only achievement missing is a victory. He came close in New Orleans, where his ball oscillated after he addressed it on the 15th green in his final round. A one-stroke penalty ensued, as did a loss on the second hole of a playoff with Bubba Watson. But Simpson, who became a first-time father in February, motored on. He's inside the top 15 on tour in total driving and ball-striking; his greenside game is sublime; and he leads the tour in the all-around category.
With only one top 15 in 11 starts in the British (T-8, 2007), this isn't so much of a fade as it is an acknowledgment that his recent form projects higher expectations than he deserves. He has six top 10s this year, including a victory at The Players Championship. In his last start, he was the runner-up at the AT&T National, so if the South Korean was to post a career-best finish in this major, this would be the most logical time. Furthermore, in his last start before that top 10 in 2007, he won the AT&T National at Congressional.
When he emerged with the victory at Royal St. George's in 2003, he was the first to do so in his first appearance in a major since Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Open in 1913 as an amateur. ("The Greatest Game Ever Played," which was a movie made about Ouimet's feat, was released in 2005.) Since his breakthrough, Curtis has managed only three top 10s in 29 starts in majors, but two were in the British Open ('07, '08). He has gone without a top 10 on the PGA Tour since a solo sixth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March 2010; that's a drought of 33 consecutive starts. What he lacks in appeal on Madison Avenue, he more than compensates in guile, as he's currently inside the top 10 on tour in fairways hit and scrambling, a pair of attributes that he needs to store in his carry-on luggage across the Atlantic.
He finally busted through his glass ceiling with a win at the Travelers Championship to join his three titles on the European Tour, all of which happened to occur in 2003. Of course, that's the last year that Royal St. George's hosted the British Open, and the Swede shared sixth place that week. However, it's one of only two top 50s in nine starts in this major (T-19, 2008). And while he's proven more than many in the field, and while he should play the weekend in England, he hasn't posted a top 10 in a major since.
It would be unfair to lean too much on his 1-for-6 record at the British Open since he's only about two and a half years into his second wind of a PGA Tour career. Yet, last year's T-27 at St. Andrews was his only finish outside the top 25 in the four majors -- he posted a whopping 20 top 25s in 26 starts all year. All of this suggests that he might not match up well with links courses and/or unfavorable weather conditions, but the jury remains out. He won at Turning Stone in less-than-perfect conditions in 2009, and has all of the weapons necessary to put himself into position to make runs at birdies and get up and down for pars when necessary.
His inability to compete regularly in this event is one of golf's worst-kept secrets. Lefty has just one top 10 in 17 starts, a solo third in 2004. He placed T-59 at Royal St. George's in 2003. You'd think that he'd contend year-in and year-out with the kind of short game he owns, but it just hasn't translated. That's not to say that it can't work, but this championship requires course management and aggressive putting that he has yet to master with consistency.