2012 Open Championship: 10 players to watch

Padraig Harrington owns two Open Championship titles and is a player to watch this week at Royal Lytham.

Padraig Harrington owns two Open Championship titles and is a player to watch this week at Royal Lytham.

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will be popular picks in office pools for this week's Open Championship. So will Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. But what about the guys whose names don't roll off the tip of your tongue? What about those guys who are sitting outside the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking but will tee it up at Royal Lytham and St. Annes this week?

Here is a look at 10 guys to keep an eye on as we inch toward the first tee time (check out the tee times here) at the year's third major.

• • •

1. Zach Johnson (No. 11 in Official World Golf Ranking)

This one almost feels like cheating, considering Johnson is coming off a dramatic win at the John Deere Classic, owns two PGA Tour victories this season and is second in the FedEx Cup standings (32 points behind Tiger Woods). Johnson picked up his best Open Championship finish last year with a T-16 at Royal St. George's, but also has three missed cuts in eight starts. The former Masters champ was T-32 at Augusta this year and T-41 at the U.S. Open. Johnson will play with defending champ Darren Clarke and Ernie Els in the first two rounds - all unique personalities to say the least.

• • •

2. Phil Mickelson (No. 16)

Lefty says he loves links golf and looks forward to the trip across the pond each season. After his opening 1-over 73 at the Scottish Open last week, it was tough to buy what he was selling. But he turned it around and finished T-16, playing weekend golf for the first time since the U.S. Open in mid-June. He carded his best Open Championship finish in 2011 at T-2 and was third in 2004. He placed T-30 the last time the Open was at Royal Lytham in 2001.

• • •

3. Louis Oosthuizen (No. 18)

After winning the 2010 Open Championship, Oosthuizen seems to play big in the majors, including his playoff loss to Bubba Watson at this year's Masters. While he did miss the cut at the U.S. Open and The Players Championship this season, he is still in the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings despite only 12 starts on the PGA Tour.

• • •

4. Keegan Bradley (No. 24)

Less than a month away from attempting to defend his PGA Championship title, Bradley has had a solid season on the PGA Tour, with three top-8 finishes, including a playoff loss for the Northern Trust Open title. His play has been solid of late, as he shot three rounds in the 60s at the Greenbrier Classic - a tournament at which Tiger Woods and Mickelson both missed the cut. This is Bradley's first appearance at the Open Championship.

• • •

5. Jim Furyk (No. 32)

The former player of the year and FedEx Cup champ (2010), Furyk has played himself back into the spotlight with four top 10s and nine top 25s in 15 PGA Tour starts this season. He also lost in a playoff for the Transitions Championship, and was the 54-hole leader at the U.S. Open before a small collapse on Sunday. He finished T-4 at Olympic Club after taking 11th at the Masters.

• • •

6. Ernie Els (No. 40)

Much like Furyk, Els has reappeared on Tour in 2012, but is still looking for that elusive win. He picked up four top 10s and seven top 25s. The Big Easy didn't get an invite to the Masters this year, but did finish ninth at the U.S. Open, breaking par in both the second and third rounds. Els has missed the cut in his past two Opens, but finished T-8 in 2009 and T-3 at Royal Lytham in 2001.

• • •

7. Padraig Harrington (No. 59)

He fits the same mold as Oosthuizen - a guy who simply knows how to play in majors. Harrington has had plenty of success at the Open - won in 2007 and 2008 - but has also missed the cut in his past two starts. He finished T-37 at Royal Lytham in 2001. Harrington has made only 12 starts on the PGA Tour this season, but has made them count with three top-8 finishes (including a T-4 at the U.S. Open and T-8 at the Masters). He has not finished outside the top 15 in four starts since a missed cut at the Players Championship.

• • •

8. Vijay Singh (No. 92)

The Fijian is definitely a long shot, as he hasn't been able to string together four good rounds so far in 2012, picking up only one top-10 in 17 PGA Tour starts. But he has shown flashes of his old brilliance, including a 63 in the opening round of his last start at the Greenbrier Classic. Singh has had success at the Open, with a T-2 in 2003 and T-5 in 2005, as well as a T-13 in 2001 at Lytham. He'll play with younger stars Nick Watney and Ian Poulter in the first two rounds, leaving him as the most battle-tested of the group.

• • •

9. Davis Love III (No. 129)

After taking nearly two months off due to an injury, Love III has picked up four top 20s in seven starts since returning at The Players Championship. He also has a solid track record at the Open, finishing T-9 in 2011 and T-5 in 2004. He was T-21 at Lytham in 2001. While Love III will have plenty of distractions starting in August when his role as Ryder Cup captain goes into full effect, Love III is level-headed enough to take on the conditions at Lytham and stay in contention all weekend.

• • •

10. Harris English (No. 146)

Call him a darkhorse, but English blitzed the field at an Open qualifier in Texas (he shot 60 in the first of two rounds) and could take on a role like Darren Clarke - a guy who comes out of nowhere to contend on a Sunday. As a PGA Tour rookie, he has 19 starts this season and has made the cut 15 times.

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