Golf’s third major of the year begins Thursday in Scotland. A look at the candidates that could hold the Claret Jug at the end:
Age: 23. World ranking: 115
British Open starts/cuts made: 0/0
Scoring average/low score: N/A
Best finish: N/A
Might win because: Koepka has just one major under his belt, the 2012 US Open, while still an amateur. He starred at Florida State, and along with his pal (and Massachusetts native) Peter Uihlein, has begun his pro career by playing in Europe. Quite well, in fact, and right away. Koepka won three times this year on the Challenge Tour, was promoted to the European Tour, and was the medalist at a qualifier in England to land at Muirfield.
Age: 32. World ranking: 8
British Open starts/cuts made: 4/1
Scoring average/low score: 72.2/64
Best finish: T3 (2012)
Might win because: Both majors this year (Adam Scott at the Masters, Justin Rose at the US Open) were taken by 32-year-olds who had never won one of golf’s big four tournaments. Snedeker fits the bill. He was the 36-hole leader at last year’s British before falling back on the weekend. He took the lead into the final round of this year’s Masters (T6 finish) and was T17 at the US Open. He’s paid his dues; it could be Snedeker’s time.
Age: 24. World ranking: 33
British Open starts/cuts made: 3/3
Scoring average/low score: 70.58/67
Best finish: T5 (2011)
Might win because: Has the game and the mental make-up to win major championships, so why not now? Doesn’t get too up, or too down, and can go on a birdie flurry after dropping some shots. Muirfield suits him; it’ll play fast, so his lack of length with the driver won’t hurt. His short game is solid, especially out of the sand. Fowler’s overall major record is poor, but he’s done well at the British, with a T5 two years ago his best effort.
Age: 43. World ranking: 13
British Open starts/cuts made: 22/19
Scoring average/low score: 70.59/65
Best finish: Win (2002, 2012)
Might win because: Els is a double defender this week: He won last year’s British Open, and won the last time the Claret Jug was handed out at Muirfield, in 2002. Nostalgia aside, he’s playing well, with a T4 at the US Open and a T13 at the Masters. It seems Els is always in contention at the British. In addition to his two wins, he has 11 other top-10 finishes, seven of them in the top five. Padraig Harrington (2007-08) is the last to defend.
Age: 37. World ranking: 30
British Open starts/cuts made: 8/6
Scoring average/low score: 72.2/67
Best finish: 3 (2008, 2010)
Will win because: Hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since the 2009 Players, but Stenson has quietly been playing some great golf lately. He was T3 last week at the Scottish Open, T10 in his European Tour start before that. He also has a T2, T5, and T8 on the PGA Tour. Was solid at this year’s Masters (T18) and US Open (T21). Stenson likes links golf; combine that with recent form, confidence, and experience. I’m expecting a big week from him.