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British Open Recap: One Step Closer to Greatness

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he contributes to Sports on Earth and was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years.

The leaderboard will forever show that Rory McIlroy won the 143rd Open Championship by a two strokes. Even sabermetricians would have to agree that the numbers by themselves cannot illustrate how dominant McIlroy was over four days at Royal Liverpool.

After opening with twin 66s to secure a four-stroke edge, McIlroy lost it all by midround on Saturday, only to remarkably regain a six-shot bulge after 54 holes. On Sunday, Sergio Garcia caught fire and, suddenly, the lead was a mere two.

"I got within two, but to me, it never felt that close," Garcia said.

No, it never did feel that close.

Garcia and Rickie Fowler ended up those two strokes behind the Northern Irishman, whose 17-under total allowed him to capture his first Open Championship, leaving him three-quarters of the way to the career grand slam. Only the green jacket of the Masters has eluded McIlroy. But, of course, that seems just a matter of time.

For all the great achievements in golf in 2014 -- Adam Scott taking the No. 1 ranking from Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson winning for the second time at Augusta, former No. 1 Martin Kaymer resurfacing to double up on The Players Championship and U.S. Open in a five-week stretch they happened amid the underlying belief that McIlroy is the best in the game. Or at least the only golfer who can go on to historical greatness (allowing that Woods and Phil Mickelson have already achieved such greatness).

By adding the Claret Jug to the U.S. Open Championship Trophy and the PGA Championship's Wanamaker Trophy, McIlroy has already achieved something only Woods and Jack Nicklaus had done: winning three majors by age 25.

And that allows for the funk that he had fallen into -- not contending in a major since winning his second at the 2012 PGA Championship, not winning at all in 2013, and falling as far down as No. 11 in the OWGR. That timeline coincided with his equipment change after signing with Nike as well as his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. But McIlroy called off their engagement this spring, and he has won twice since.

(The breakup seems to be working all the way around, as hours before McIlroy won the Open, former No. 1 Wozniacki secured her first tournament title of the year, the Istanbul Cup.)

With the victory at Hoylake, McIlroy has shot up to No. 2 in the rankings. Just like it seems only a matter of time before McIlroy wins the Masters, it seems Scott is merely a place-holder at No. 1 in the world.


Sergio Garcia

The Spaniard played valiantly all week, until he flubbed a pot bunker shot on 15 on Sunday, resulting in bogey and effectively ending his hopes. Still, Garcia secured his 18th top 10 in a major and will climb to No. 5 in the latest OWGR. Garcia seems to be playing some of the best golf of his career and, while "the best player without a major" label was never a compliment, perhaps now it is. And it's not farfetched to envision a major in Garcia's future, most likely the Open Championship. But a strong finish in the PGA Championship would not surprise.

Rickie Fowler

On the one hand, Fowler is the only golfer with top-5 finishes in all three majors this year, following a T5 at the Masters and T2s at both Opens. On the other hand, the difference between contending in a major and winning a major is voluminous, as Garcia can attest. Fowler is older than McIlroy chronologically, but not on the golf course and, perhaps most importantly, not between the ears. Fowler will need to add mettle at the expense of flash to take that next, hardest step. (At least he didn't wear orange on Sunday.)

Jim Furyk

It's coming up on four years since Furyk has won a tournament the 2010 Tour Championship. But what a year he is having at age 44. He's 14-for-14 in cuts, with 11 top-25s and six top-10s, including solo fourth at the Open Championship. Furyk was among four golfers tying the course record on Sunday with a 65. But can he win again? Gosh, when contending, Furyk has developed a propensity to make that killer mistake.

Adam Scott

After a 73 on Friday, Scott was never in the mix. But a 69-66 weekend enabled him to wind up tied for fifth. Scott has three top-15s in majors this season, but will he win another? He's become an excellent putter 14th in strokes gained-putting and that was always his Achilles' heel. So between now and 2016, when the anchored stroke becomes forbidden, will be his best chance. And he likely will win another major in that time. But his No. 1 ranking is on borrowed time.

Dustin Johnson

Johnson always seems to be in the mix in big events. He already has seven top-10s in majors, and just missed another this week, winding up tied for 12th. But like Garcia, and now Fowler, he's been unable to take the next step from contender to victor. And quite frankly, until Johnson does win a major, many will wonder if he has what it takes mentally. Because he sure does have what it takes physically.

Phil Mickelson

Mickelson effectively shot himself out of the tournament with an opening 74. But he managed to make the cut and, with 68 on Sunday, moved up to a tie for 23rd. Mickelson still has no top-10s this season, and it's hard to envision him winning a tournament anytime soon.

Tiger Woods

After making the cut on the number, Woods had a strong weekend, closing with a course-record-tying 65 to tie for 23rd ... Oh, wait, what? Really? ... Never mind. That was England's Chris Wood tying for 23rd with a 65. Tiger actually wound up 69th, his worst finish in a major in which he's made the cut, a whopping 23 shots behind McIlroy. Woods will fall a spot to ninth in the world in the latest rankings.

Justin Rose

The bookmakers' favorite coming in, based on consecutive wins at the Quicken Loans National and Scottish Open, Rose is a very good player who simply was on a hot streak. He really shouldn't be the No. 1 choice to win any event, much less a major. Going back 12 years, Rose has only seven top-10s in majors, including his lone victory in the 2013 U.S. Open. He tied for 23rd this week.

Jimmy Walker

Despite not having won since early February, Walker maintains the top standing in the points race. He's done a good job of piling up top-10s and top-25s, though he just missed out this week with a tie for 26th. It's hard to believe he played in only three majors in his career before this season. But look for him to contend at the PGA Championship next month.

Martin Kaymer

Another Open favorite based on his resurgent spring, Kaymer was never a factor, making the cut but finishing 70th after a closing 79. Has his window of excellence closed so suddenly? Maybe. He's certainly over his three-year funk, but winning two huge tournaments in such a short span has not happened for many golfers better than Kaymer.

Bubba Watson

If it weren't clear already, Watson's game is built for Augusta. It's easy to envision him winning there another two or three times. Conversely, it's hard to see him contending in the other majors. OK, maybe the PGA, depending on the course. Watson was runner-up -- to Kaymer in a playoff that also included Johnson -- at the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits. This week, Watson shot 76-72, missing the cut by two strokes.