Five Players to Watch at the British Open

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It seems like only yesterday that the best golfers in the game were battling for a green jacket at the Masters Tournament, the season’s first major.

With mid-July here, however, the stage is set for the final major, the British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England, which begins on Thursday.

It will be fascinating to see if Wyndham Clark, who was a surprise winner in the United States Open in June, can back it up at the British Open — and whether the world No. 1, Scottie Scheffler, whose name always seems to be on the leaderboard, will make enough putts to win his second major after taking the Masters last year.

Here are five other players to watch this week.

No one has been more impressive in the majors this year than Koepka. He tied for second at the Masters and won the P.G.A. Championship.

At 33, Koepka, with five major titles, is still in the prime of his career. With one more major, he’d join such greats as Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson with six. Koepka said his goal was to reach double figures in majors, and it’s not out of the question.

“I think sometimes majors are the easiest to win,” he once said. “Half the people shoot themselves out of it, and mentally I know I can beat most of them.”

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Koepka, who signed with the Saudi-financed LIV Golf tour in 2022, is healthy again. As knee and hip injuries took their toll in the last couple of years, his game suffered as did his confidence.

With the arrival of each major championship, there’s the same question for McIlroy, 34: Will he win his fifth title? He has been stuck on four since he captured the 2014 P.G.A. Championship.

He almost came through at the United States Open this year but failed to make a birdie on No. 8, the vulnerable par 5, and bogeyed No. 14, another par 5, to finish second by a stroke.

McIlroy, who birdied the last two holes to win last week’s Genesis Scottish Open, still has time. Mickelson and Ben Hogan didn’t pick up their first major until they were in their early 30s. On the other hand, McIlroy, ranked No. 2, can’t keep letting these opportunities slip away. There are only so many.

He has one big thing going for him this week. It was on the same course in 2014 that he captured his lone British Open, winning by two over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler.

Time, however, is starting to become a factor for Rose, who will turn 43 at the end of the month, in his pursuit of a second major. His first was the 2013 U.S. Open. Since 2000, only Tiger Woods and Mickelson have won majors after their 43rd birthday.

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Rose, of England, has shown this year he still has plenty of game. In February, he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am because of a 65 and 66 in his final two rounds. He tied for sixth at the Players Championship, tied for ninth at the P.G.A. Championship and came in eighth at the RBC Canadian Open.

It’s hard to believe, but a quarter century has passed since, as a 17-year-old amateur, Rose holed out on the 72nd hole from 50 yards away to tie for fourth in the 1998 British Open. “It was something,” he said, “that was way beyond anything I could have ever imagined or experienced.”

Hoping to defend his title is Smith of Australia, who hit a final-round 64 last year to win by a stroke over Cameron Young. McIlroy finished third, two shots back. Smith, who made eight birdies, didn’t seem to miss a putt in the final round. Most memorable was the save he made on No. 17, the Road Hole, knocking in a 10-footer after an exquisite third shot that he navigated around the bunker.

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“I knew if I could get it somewhere in there,” said Smith, ranked No. 7, “that I’d be able to give it a pretty good run.”

Smith, 29, who won a recent LIV Tour event in London, tied for 34th at the Masters, but tied for ninth at the P.G.A. and came in fourth at the U.S. Open, closing with a three-under 67. Unless his putter cools off, he should be in the hunt.

Still only 26, Morikawa, a two-time major champion, might have found something to turn his season around. Morikawa, ranked No. 19, closed with a 64 a few weeks ago at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, losing in a playoff to Fowler. It was his first top 10 finish since the Masters, most surprising for a player of his ability.

His first major came in the 2020 P.G.A. Championship. Morikawa, who shot a final-round 64, made a memorable eagle on No. 16 after reaching the green with his tee shot. In 2021, he won the British Open by two shots over Jordan Spieth.

Morikawa hasn’t won since, however, and it’s getting to him.

“I mean frustrating, frustrating’s a word I can use,” he said in June.

“It’s been a while, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to” win, he said. “It’s still there.”

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