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Stat attack!: British Open preview

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The Open Championship is the tournament Father Time forgot. It’s the one major championship won more often than not by a veteran player. Since 2004, when 38-year-old Todd Hamilton took the title at Royal Troon, only Tiger Woods in 2005 and Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 were less than 30 years old. Woods was all of 29 at the time and Oosthuizen was 27, so it’s not as if they were young guns. Since Oosthuizen, every winner has been at least 35, with the last three champions – Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson (above) – having surpassed their 42nd birthday. Age might just be a number, but more 40-somethings and fewer 20-somethings have won the British Open than any other major in the last decade.

Age of major champions: 2004-2014

 Major Youngest age 20-25 26-29 30-34 35-39 40+ Oldest age
 Masters 26 0 3 4 4 0 39
 U.S. Open 22 1 4 3 3 0 37
 British Open 27 0 2 1 4 3 43
 PGA 23 3 0 2 4 1 41

When Phil Mickelson won in 2013 it marked the first time in memory that the last three winners of any major were over 40 years of age, and when you’re talking about the players with the most tree rings at the British Open, who can forget Tom Watson’s near miss in 2009 at age 59 and Greg Norman’s close call a year earlier at age 53.

Angel Cabrera (44) and John Senden (43) are the only 40-year-olds to win on the PGA Tour this year, but that doesn’t mean other veterans aren’t able to take home the claret jug. Zach Johnson and Henrik Stenson are 38; Matt Kuchar and Luke Donald are 36; and Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker are 35. They all rank among the top-10 players age 35 or older who have accumulated the most world ranking points in 2014.

World Ranking points gained in 2014 by players currently age 35 and older

 Player Age Points gained in 2014
 Bubba Watson 35 236.61
 Matt Kuchar 36 178.58
 Jimmy Walker 35 156.56
 Jim Furyk 44 139.18
 Stephen Gallacher 39 124.98
 Zach Johnson 38 114.83
 Henrik Stenson 38 103.09
 Thongchai Jaidee 44 99.31
 John Senden 43 92.04
 Luke Donald 36 97.79

Even Tiger Woods is the right age to break his major slide. The 14-time major champion is 38 year’s old, right where you’d want to be to take the British title. Woods, as you know, has had incredible success at the year’s third major with three victories – 2000, 2005 and 2006 – and seven top-10 finishes since 2000. Only Ernie Els has more top-10s than Woods at the British Open since 2000.

Most top-10 finishes at the Open Championship since 2000

 Top 10s Player Best finish
 9 Ernie Els Won 2012
 9  Tiger Woods Won three times
 7 Sergio Garcia 2 in 2007
 6 Retief Goosen T-5 in 2005 and 2009
 4 Lee Westwood 2 in 2010
 4 Thomas Bjorn 2 in 2000 and 2003

Goosen is not in the field this week, but the other five are, and three of them finished in the top 10 at Royal Liverpool in 2006, the year Woods taught the field a lesson in course management, his 18-under 270 beating Chris DiMarco by two strokes. Woods led the field in driving accuracy, having shunned his driver on all but one hole. Not once did he hit into a fairway bunker. He hit 85.7 percent of the fairways, and that led to him hitting 80.6 percent of his fairways, tied for the second-best total in the tournament. Regardless of whether those numbers are a result of the course layout at Hoylake, only one other winner since 2003 – Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 – has hit more than 80 percent of the greens and fairways at the British Open. Els was third in 2006 and Garcia was T-5. Westwood and Bjorn both made the cut finishing T-31 and T-41, respectively. There are 26 players in this week’s field who made the cut in 2006, including six who finished in the top 10.

British Open competitors who finished in the top 10 at Liverpool in 2006

 Player Finish Scores
 Tiger Woods 1 67-65-71-67—270
 Ernie Els 3 68-65-71-71—275
 Jim Furyk 4 68-71-66-71—276
 Sergio Garcia T-5 68-71-65-73—277
 Angel Cabrera 7 71-68-66-73—278
 Adam Scott T-8 68-69-70-72—279

Scott and Furyk are also among the group of seven players who have finished in the top 15 at each of this year’s first two majors. Scott, in fact, has made the cut at the last 12 majors, and has been in the top 15 in 10 of them.

Players with top-15 finishes in the 2014 Masters and U.S. Open

 Player Masters U.S. Open
 Rickie Fowler T-5 T-2
 Matt Kuchar   T-5 T-12
 Jimmy Walker T-8 T-9
 Henrik Stenson T-14 T-4
 Adam Scott T-14 T-9
 Jim Furyk T-14 T-12
 Justin Rose T-14 T-12

You might have noticed that many of the players listed above are the “right” age for the Open Championship, and have been playing well in 2014. But the list of British Open champions who also played well at the year’s first two majors isn’t a very long one. Since 1990 only Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo have finished in the top 15 of both the Masters and U.S. Open and won the British Open. Woods did it in 2000 and 2005 (he missed the cut in the 2006 U.S. Open in his first tournament after the death of his father), and Faldo did it in 1990 and 1992. Since 2006 only two players have made the cut at the Masters and U.S. Open, and then won the British Open. Here’s how the Open Champion has fared at the year’s first two majors since Woods in 2005.

British Open winner in the year’s first two majors: 2006-2013

 Year British winner Masters finish U.S. Open finish
 2013 Phil Mickelson T-54 2
 2012  Ernie Els DNP 9
 2011 Darren Clarke DNP DNP
 2010 Louis Oosthuizen MC MC
 2009 Stewart Cink MC T-27
 2008 Padraig Harrington 5 T-36
 2007 Padraig Harrington 7 MC
 2006 Tiger Woods T-3 MC

One final note: The only player to win the British Open in his first appearance since Tom Watson in 1975 was Ben Curtis in 2003. Erik Compton is the only first-timer who was in the top-10 at a major this year, having finished tied for second at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

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