This week marks the 36th event of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season, as the Tour heads across the Pond for the British Open. A full field of 156 players will tee it up this week at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where the claret jug is once again up for grabs in golf's oldest major championship.
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Phil Mickelson returns to defend the title he won here a year ago by three shots over Henrik Stenson. Here are 15 names to watch this week in Hoylake:
1. Henrik Stenson: A runner-up last year, Stenson has finished no worse than T-21 in his last six majors overall. He enters this week with top-7 finishes in his last four starts, including a tie for second in Germany in his last event. The Swede tied for fourth at the U.S. Open last month and possesses both the game and the temperament to conquer Royal Liverpool this week.
2. Adam Scott: Scott appeared to have one hand on the trophy last year, and only a dramatic collapse prevented him from lifting the claret jug in 2012. He was eighth at Royal Liverpool in 2006 and since then has finished worse than T-27 at the Open only once (MC in 2009). He has top-10 finishes in each of his last three starts dating back to his playoff win at Colonial and should thrive on a course that requires accurate tee-to-green placement.
3. Rory McIlroy: If he were allowed to skip Friday's round, McIlroy would be a shoe-in to win this week. Despite his second-round struggles, though, the Ulsterman has had a solid season in 2014, highlighted by his win at Wentworth and including only one result outside the top 25. His form in the Open hasn't been stellar outside of a third-place showing at St. Andrews in 2010, but his best is still better than that of most of the field this week.
4. Justin Rose: Current form over past history. Rose's lone top-10 finish in the Open came as an amateur back in 1998, but he enters off back-to-back wins, including a triumph on a links layout last week at Royal Aberdeen. Rose has now solidified his standing after the breakthrough victory last year at Merion and is among the best long-iron players in the field, an asset that should prove valuable this week in Hoylake.
5. Jordan Spieth: After an unprecedented rookie campaign, Spieth has shown no signs of letdown this year, contending at both the Masters and the Players Championship and heading to Liverpool off of eight top-20 finishes in his last nine starts overall. The 20-year-old made the cut in his Open debut last year at Muirfield, tying for 44th, and should improve on that considerably this time around.
6. Martin Kaymer: Kaymer burst (back) onto the scene with his win at TPC Sawgrass in May, then demolished the field last month at Pinehurst en route to his second major title. He's clearly playing with an abundance of confidence and has a solid record at the Open, one that includes four top-35 finishes over the last five years and is highlighted by a tie for seventh in 2010.
7. Brendon Todd: His last six starts have gone Win-T5-T8-T17-T5-T4. Todd is in the midst of a career year, with 11 top-25 finishes this season highlighted by his win in Dallas in May. While he's making his Open debut, his stellar short game should help him adjust, as Todd ranks fourth on Tour in strokes gained putting, fifth in scrambling and eighth in scoring average.
8. Sergio Garcia: Fighting with Lee Westwood for the title of "Most overdue for a major." Garcia was fifth at Hoylake in 2006, has three top-25 finishes in the Open since 2010 and tied for second last month at the Travelers Championship. He has had a solid season in 2014, including a win in Qatar in January, but should contend this week - even if that sough-after major title likely eludes him.
9. Rickie Fowler: The only player with top-five finishes in each of the first two majors of 2014, Fowler also added a tie for eighth last week at the Scottish Open and appears on the verge of a breakthrough win sooner rather than later. After playing college golf in breezy Stillwater, Fowler has had no trouble adjusting to links golf, going T14-T5-T31 in the Open from 2010-2012.
10. Zach Johnson: Johnson appears to have the John Deere-Open combination figured out, with a T-16 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011 followed by top-10 results in both 2012 (T-9) and 2013 (T-6). He is no stranger to flighting his ball to fit the conditions of links golf, and again enters with momentum after his runner-up finish last week at TPC Deere Run.
11. Graeme McDowell: McDowell backed into a successful title defense in France two weeks ago, but a win's a win. The Ulsterman was fifth two years ago at Royal Lytham and had top-25 finishes in both 2008 and 2010, proving he has the game to contend in this event. In addition to his win at Le Golf National, McDowell tied for sixth at the Irish Open and was T-28 last month at Pinehurst.
12. Dustin Johnson: Johnson has missed only two cuts in 15 starts this year and tied for fourth at the U.S. Open. He notably contended in the Open at Royal St. George's in 2011, where he tied for second, and his T-39 finish last year at Muirfield broke a streak of three straight top-15 finishes in this event. A winner earlier this season in China, he ranks second on Tour in the all-around and third in scoring average this season.
13. Matt Kuchar: Kuchar hasn't played since the Travelers Championship last month, but he's having a typically consistent season, with nine top 10s and 13 top 25s in 17 starts, including his win at Hilton Head. Kuchar has cracked the top 15 at the Open each of the last two years, including a tie for ninth in 2012, and contended this year at both the Masters (T-5) and U.S. Open (T-12).
14. Jimmy Walker: Walker surprised many with his three wins earlier this season, but since then he has added top-10 results at each of the first two majors this year. He is making his first Open appearance but had a solid introduction to links golf last week at Royal Aberdeen, where he finished the week under par after a final-round 69, and ranks second on Tour in birdie average.
15. Brandt Snedeker: Now under the watchful eye of Butch Harmon, Snedeker is beginning to show signs of life after a slow start to 2014. The putter that was so cold for so long is starting to heat up, and Snedeker has top-25 finishes in each of his last three starts overall, dating back to a T-9 finish at Pinehurst. After his surprising T-3 result at Royal Lytham, Snedeker tied for 11th last year at Muirfield.