July 16, 2014 - 9:56am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson
USA Today Sports Images
Rickie Fowler has finished in the top 5 of each of the first two majors this year. Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, is the defending champ at the Open Championship this week.

It's hard to believe, but we've already reached the third leg of the major championship season as the Open Championship tees off at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England, on Thursday.

As always, there will be plenty to watch for, including the return of Tiger Woods who will be playing in his first major of the year after back surgery in March. While we probably shouldn't expect much from Woods with only two competitive rounds (the Quicken Loans National) under his belt in four months, keep in mind he did win the Open at this very venue in 2006.

RELATED: Open Championship tee times | Rose eyes Open win | Complete Open coverage

Then there's also the odd case of Phil Mickelson. He's the defending Open champion, but has yet to record a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in the 2013-14 season. Is this the week he snaps out of the funk?

While Tiger and Phil would make for great stories with a victory, here are five others you might want to keep an eye on.

5. Rickie Fowler
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
T2 at the U.S. Open
Reason to watch: For the first time in his career, Fowler enters the Open Championship having finished in the top 5 at each of the season's first two majors. He tied for fifth at the Masters and tied for second at the U.S. Open. He also had a top-5 finish at the Open in 2010 (T5) and just last week at Royal Aberdeen in the Scottish Open -- on a links-style course -- he tied for eighth. Good form and he's on a roll in the majors.

4. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Playoff loss at the Honda Classic
Reason to watch: Rory has been plagued by a case of the Fridays this year. After some fantastic opening rounds, McIlroy can't seem to follow it up with a solid Friday score. That's truly the only thing holding him back. He did break through in May though at the European Tour's flagship event -- the BMW PGA Championship. Can he find the magic this week? Outside of a tie for third in 2010, the Open Championship has proven to be a struggle for McIlroy, which is surprising given that he grew up playing tons of links golf. Something's got to give for McIlroy with these disappointing second rounds. This might be the week.

3. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Won the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial
Reason to watch: Since 2011, the 2013 Masters Champion has been a top-10 machine in the majors. Eight top 10s in 14 tries over that stretch, including a runner-up finish and a tie for third in each of the last two Open Championships. He's the No. 1 player in the world now. Scott is always giving himself a chance to win these days, which is exactly what you'd expect from the No. 1 player in the world. He does have demons in the Open Championship. He'd be the first to admit he probably should have won the last two of them. Perhaps the third time being in a great position to win in as many years is a charm.

2. Graeme McDowell
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Third at the WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: When I think of elite players who get the most out of their respective games, the names Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell are at the very top of that list. That's a big-time compliment. Obviously they're supremely talented players, but they also have that intangible that not everyone has -- they grind it out to the very last putt. Sure, a lot of top players do that. That's why they're the best. With Johnson and McDowell though, we're not talking about the longest hitters in the game. They truly dissect a course and play to their strengths (Johnson, for instance, laying up on the par 5s at Augusta National all week on his way to winning the 2007 Masters). Because of this, I always love McDowell's chances on a hard golf course. I also like that he's coming in having won in France just two weeks ago, overcoming an eight-shot deficit in the final round with a 67 (and a lot of help from 54-hole leader Kevin Stadler).

1. Justin Rose
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Won the Quicken Loans National
Reason to watch: Rose's lone top 10 finish in the Open Championship came in 1998 at Royal Birkdale when he tied for fourth... as an amateur at the age of 17. Rose fell on some hard times after that impressive showing, but over the last several years he's developed into one of the top talents in the world. And, as it turns out, there's no player hotter than Rose heading into this Open. For the first time in his career, Rose has been victorious in consecutive starts -- first at the Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour and then again last week at the Scottish Open on the European Tour. Both of those came on ridiculously difficult courses. That bodes well for this week. Pulling a hat-trick won't be easy, but Rose has got to love the way he's playing going into the tournament he covets most. 

2014 Open Championship | Five players to watch
July 16, 2014 - 8:18am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Padraig Harrington
YouTube
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hit golf shots blindfolded? Padraig Harrington was curious. So he tried it out and the results were remarkable (some of them anyway).

These two videos are a couple of days old now, but it doesn't matter because they're spectacular.

Padraig Harrington, a three-time major winner, with the alignment help of longtime caddie Ronan Flood, tried hitting some shots blindfolded.

And not just any straight away shot, but shots over, around and through clusters of trees. Check it out:

A hole-out? Blindfolded? Remarkable stuff from Harrington.

As if that wasn't enough, Harrington also took a few rips with the driver, "Happy Gilmore" style. You can see that here:

Harrington hits golf shots blindfolded
July 14, 2014 - 1:01pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Phil Mickelson
www.theopen.com
Phil Mickelson returned the Claret Jug to the R&A on Monday as he prepares to defend this week. While with Mickelson, the Claret Jug once contained a $40,000 bottle of wine.

When it comes to championship trophies -- most notably the Stanley Cup -- people want to celebrate by drinking out of it.

That's no different in golf with the coveted Claret Jug the winner receives for winning the Open Championship.

What is different in this case, however, is the choice of drink used by defending champion Phil Mickelson.

RELATED: Mickelson's incredible cart-path shot sets up unlikely birdie

While we often hear "how many beers" can fit in a particular trophy (Michelle Wie tweeted Meg Mallon after winning the U.S. Women's Open to report that 21 1/2 beers fit in the trophy), Mickelson went a more sophisticated route.

And by "more sophisticated" we mean, outrageously expensive bottle of wine -- a $40,000 1990 Romanee-Conti to be precise.

You read that right -- a bottle of vino that cost as much as a really nice car.

"One of the things that I stressed is that we have to treat the claret jug with reverence and respect that it deserves and only put good stuff in it," Mickelson said with a laugh Monday, according to Golf Channel.

In an article that appeared in The Scotsman on Sunday, Mickelson expanded on the wine choice.

"I've loved having the Jug with me for the last 12 months," he said. "The people who know and love the game get a big kick out of it. They really appreciate what it means to hold such a famous trophy. And drink out of it. I only let them drink the good stuff of course. There's been nothing in there that is sub-par. But the best was a 1990 bottle of Romanee Conti wine. It wasn't on my dime thankfully. It costs about $40,000."

Living the good life indeed. 

 

Mickelson's expensive taste for choice of Claret Jug beverage
U.S. Senior Open
PGA of America archive
Sonny Skinner was the Low PGA Club Professional at the U.S. Senior Open.

By Bob Denney
PGA of America

PGA Life Member Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Georgia, winner of the past four Senior PGA Professional Player of the Awards, was the Low PGA Club Professional at the 2014 U.S. Senior Open, July 13, in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Skinner, 53 shared 26th place after finishing at 7-over-par 291 over four rounds at Oak Tree National Golf Club, and earned $25,800. Skinner tied for 31st at the PGA Professional National Championship in June, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Jerry Haas of Winston Salem, North Carolina, head men’s coach at Wake Forest University and brother of two-time Senior PGA Champion Jay Haas, closed with a 69 to share 33rd at 292. He earned $20,443.

Skinner leads PGA Professionals at U.S. Senior Open
July 14, 2014 - 8:34am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Mo Martin
USA Today Sports Images
On Sunday at Royal Birkdale, American Mo Martin hit the shot of her life to set up the biggest victory of her life -- a major no less -- the Ricoh Women's British Open.

Close it out in style.

That's an adage we often hear in sports. On Sunday at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England, in the final round of the Ricoh Women's British Open, that's precisely what 31-year-old American Mo Martin did.

Martin, who has spent most of her professional life grinding on mini tours, hit a 3-wood from just under 240 yards on the par-5 18th hole at Royal Birkdale and watched it roll and roll toward the flag.

The ball crashed into the pin -- dead center, nearly an albatross -- and settled about six feet away setting up an eagle putt.

Martin made the ensuing eagle putt and had to wait an hour to see if her 1-under 287 total would hold up for her first major championship win.

It did.

Martin is a remarkable story. In 63 previous tries, she'd never won on the LPGA Tour. Now, that maiden victory made her a major champion.

"It's still soaking in, along with champagne in my jacket," Martin told reporters. "This is just unbelievable. It's literally a dream come true."

Martin's shot reminded us of another gem from a fellow unlikely winner -- Shaun Micheel's 7-iron approach from 174 yards on the par-4 18th hole at Oak Hill in the final round of the 2003 PGA Championship that came to rest just inches from the hole to put an exclamation point on the win.

Here's that shot from Micheel:

Martin's win at Royal Birkdale made it the first time since 1999 on the LPGA Tour that Americans have won the first three majors of the season. Martin followed Lexi Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and Michelle Wie at the U.S. Women's Open. 

Near-albatross sets up major win for Mo Martin
LeBron James and Johnny Manziel

In the wake of the LeBron James news today, Twitter has been swamped. In the maelstrom, however, one tweet from this afternoon jumped out at me.

It's from Cleveland native and dedicated Cleveland sports fan Jason Dufner, who reminded us of a tweet he had posted last December – five months before the NFL Draft and seven months before King James made his second big decision.

Here it is:

 

 
Happy that LeBron and Johnny Football are both in Cleveland? Thank Jason Dufner