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Punch Shot: Top Open contenders by age group

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The Open Championship gets underway Thursday at Royal Liverpool, where Tiger Woods won in 2006 by only hitting one driver off the tee all week. That’s not likely to happen this time around, as the course is no longer crispy and wind and rain are heavily expected. Who will be the top contender in his 20s, 30s and 40s? Our team in Hoylake weighs in.

By JAY COFFIN

My picks were easy, all though each of the three have an element that makes them risky.

20s: Rory McIlroy. Sure, he doesn’t particularly like this type of golf - he said Tuesday that he hasn’t evolved as a links player since his junior golf days and he hates wind and rain, which both are forecast here for the week. But he’s still Rory McIlroy, and he’s good enough to win any major no matter his form or focus. He’ll likely win the career Grand Slam and come to terms with this style of golf. If he can eliminate a nine-hole score of over 40 this week, he’s got a shot.

30s: Sergio Garcia. I know, I know, majors hate him. But this is the major that hates him the least. In 17 career Opens, Garcia has seven top-10 finishes, including a T-5 here at Royal Liverpool in 2006. He’s in good form now after a second-place tie at the Travelers Championship and a 12th-place tie at the BMW International, his last start. El Nino could be dangerous.

40s: Angel Cabrera. My 40-something that will contend can either, well, contend, or miss the cut. Cabrera has a terrible Open record, but he did just win The Greenbrier two weeks ago and he did finish 11th last year at Muirfield. If his heart’s in it, he can play well and make as many birdies as anyone in the field. If it gets going sideways at any point – potential poor weather makes it a distinct possibility – then he can pack it in quickly and not qualify for the weekend. Cabrera is a true risk-reward pick.


By REX HOGGARD

20s: Jordan Spieth. Among the 20-something set, Spieth – who turns 21 next week – is the perennial favorite. His tie for second earlier this year at Augusta National has all the markings of a precursor to something special.

30s: Adam Scott. The newly turned 34-year-old is the easy pick for players in this age group and has proven he can contend at an Open – for 68 holes in 2012 at Lytham he was on cruise control – and win a major (see Masters, 2013).

40s: Ernie Els. The 44-year-old may be easy to overlook, but the South African is just two years removed from his last Open triumph and proved earlier this year with his fourth-place finish at the WGC-Match Play Championship that he still has the game to compete against the world’s best.


By RYAN LAVNER

20s: Martin Kaymer. Somehow, after two more big-time victories, this guy is still underrated and underappreciated. Following his blowout win at the U.S. Open, which came a month after his impressive display at The Players, the Germanator came through with a T-12 in Paris in his final tuneup. His Open record isn’t too shabby, with a pair of top-12s since 2010, but more important than his past history is his current form. The guy’s swing is in a serious groove at the moment.

30s: Henrik Stenson. It finally feels like his time to break through in the Big Ones. He’s in top form, having finished in the top 7 in five of his last six starts, and he’s been knocking on the door in this championship in two of the past three years. As solid of a bet as it gets.

40s: Phil Mickelson. It’s been a pretty miserable season for Lefty, but he’s never been more confident playing links golf. His T-11 last week at Royal Aberdeen should give him confidence that things are finally turning in the right direction, and if his putter cooperates, it wouldn’t surprise at all to see him in the hunt for another claret jug.