It seems like yesterday that Phil Mickelson came in just shy at a sixth U.S. Open on a Merion layout that was debated for weeks, but the top players in the world are already in full prep mode for the season's next major: the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield. The British Open is the oldest and most unique of the season's four majors, played abroad typically on a links layout in extreme weather conditions.
The field at the British Open is also unique, comprised of many more relatively unknown European and Asian players who rarely appear stateside. The Royal & Ancient does employ a qualifying process similar to the one put in play by the USGA for the U.S. Open, using several international and local qualifying sites to fill out a field and keep the tournament truly "open." In addition to the open qualifying spots, the R&A utilizes many of the same exemptions in place for the U.S. Open and the Masters. It's usually not as large a field as the U.S. Open or PGA Championship, but is far closer to those two than the exclusive Masters invitee list. With only a few more spots left to be filled, here's the current field as the season's third major rapidly approaches.
Like any major, there are obviously many players in the field who have earned multiple exemptions. These are usually the biggest names in the sport, players with lengthy resumes that are entrenched at the top of the world rankings. Tiger Woods, for example, has qualified for eight different exemptions via his past success at all the majors, his world ranking, Ryder Cup membership, and PGA Tour success this year. Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy, and Louis Oosthuizen are the closest to Woods' resume with six separate exemptions.
The breakdown of exempted players below lists each with the first possible method of entry according to the 29 separate ways a regular touring pro gets access. Again using Tiger as an example, Mr. Woods will appear only under the first exemption method (past champions) but could technically be listed seven more times after that. With that multi-exemption note in mind, here's the field to date for the 2013 British Open.
The British Open finds a middle ground between the season's first two majors when it comes to inviting past champions. It does not grant a lifetime invite to former winners, like the stodgy green jackets at Augusta, but it also salutes more than just the past 10 winners, the limited reward the USGA hands out for winning America's national championship. Instead, the R&A grants exemptions to all former champions who will be 60 years old or younger as of the tournament's final round on Sunday.
That age requirement mitigates the course-clogging seniors who often fire rounds in the mid-80s at Augusta before they're gently asked to stop competing. But 60 is still a pretty generous ceiling, so most of the former winners, including the one-hit wonders such as Todd Hamilton, will be in attendance. This adds a bit of extra entertainment with players such as John Daly, David Duval, and Nick Faldo (a two-time winner here who's coming out of the broadcast booth for a rare appearance) teeing it up. Here's the list of former winners 60 or younger:
|Past Open Championship winners (60 and younger as of Sunday, July 21)|
Unlike Faldo, however, Ian Baker-Finch, Greg Norman, and Nick Price are expected to abstain from a comeback via this exemption.
Past champions finishing T10 or better the last 5 years
There are three exemptions for former champions -- the past winners listed above who are 60 or younger, the past winners of the last 10 British Opens, and past winners who have at least tied for 10th in the last five British Opens. Of course, almost every past champion still competing falls under the first category of being younger than 60 years old. This includes the second exemption for the past 10 winners, all of which are under 60. But old Tom Watson nearly qualified via that rare exemption when he almost pulled off the most incredible major win in golf history at Turnberry in 2009. Instead, that playoff loss and second-place finish were good enough to qualify for the equally as rare 60 and over former champion who has finished T10 within the last five years.
|Past Champions, 60 and older, Finishing T10 in past 5 years|
Top 10 (and ties) from 2012 Open Championship
As is custom at the majors, the top 10 from last year's tournament at Lytham get the return invite. While it will best be remembered for Adam Scott's giveaway coming into the clubhouse, three players who quietly placed in the top 10 can thank this exemption as their sole method of qualifying. Thomas Aiken, Geoff Ogilvy, and Vijay Singh are so out of form this year that none would have qualified if not for their strong showing in 2012. Aside from those three, last year's top 10 are the leaderboard regulars:
|T10 from 2012 Open Championship|
|Miguel Angel Jimenez|
Official World Golf Rankings Top 50 (as of May 26, 2013)
The best players in the world almost never have to grind through the qualifying processes at the two major opens, especially if they're in form and settled into prime position in the OWGR. The R&A allots positions for the top 50 in the world rankings, but closes the door early in the season almost two months prior to the actual tournament. In contrast, the USGA reviews the top 50 both a month out from the U.S. Open and the week before, allowing golfers to play their way into the field in the intervening events. But here, not even a player's strong performance at the U.S. Open would count when it comes to OWGR points. This exemption wipes out almost all of the most recognizable names in the game still looking for bids:
|Top 50 in World Rankings as of May 26|
|Bo Van Pelt|
Top 30 in the Race to Dubai
The "Race to Dubai" is the European Tour's equivalent of the season-long FedExCup chase. It covers a 46-tournament stretch over the Euro Tour's season, with players accumulating points in the same way FedExCup points are up for grabs at every PGA Tour stop. The R&A rewards those finishing in the top 30 on the Race to Dubai list from 2012, with eight Euro Tour regulars using this exemption as their only way into the field.
|2012 Race for Dubai Top 30|
2012 TOUR Championship Qualifiers
This is the American tour's answer to the Race to Dubai, with the FedExCup finale in Atlanta featuring the last 30 standing in the PGA Tour's "playoffs" system. Only two players who snuck into the season finale are relying on this exemption this year.
|2012 FedExCup TOUR Championship Qualifiers|
Major Championship Winners from Past 5 Years
Like its sister majors, the British gives a nod to those winners at the biggest tournaments from the past five seasons. Only one former winner from each of the other majors does not qualify through one of the aforementioned exemptions, although Angel Cabrera is making a strong push this season to get back towards the top of the world rankings.
|Last 5 U.S. Open Winners|
|Last 5 Masters Winners|
|Last 5 PGA Championship Winners|
Last 3 Euro Tour BMW PGA Championship/PGA Tour Players Championship Winners
The BMW PGA Championship and the Players are both recognized as the biggest non-major events on each tour. There's really no such thing as a "5th major" but these tournaments claim that status on their respective circuits. Much like the USGA, the R&A does assign a little extra weight to these winners by doling invites to the last three winners. The past three BMW winners, Luke Donald (2x) and Matteo Manassero, have already qualified through other exemptions, leaving only 2011 Players champion K.J. Choi in this category.
|Last 3 Players Championship Winners|
Order of Merit Winners from other world tours/Japan Tour exemptions
The R&A also opens up several exemptions for the other tours from around the world, namely the Asian, Australasia, Japan, and South African Sunshine tours. The exemptions are reserved for last year's order of merit winners and money list winners, with an additional six spots up for grabs at last month's Japan Tour Mizuno Open. Some of these players are recognizable names who repeatedly pop up on the American tour and at WGC events, while others are completely unknown heading into Muirfield.
|T1 Order of Merit on 2012 Asian Tour|
|T1 Order of Merit on 2012 Australasia Tour|
|2012 Japan Open Winner|
|T2 on 2012 Japan Tour Money List|
|T4 at 2013 Mizuno Open|
|T2 on 2013 Japan Tour Money List after Mizuno Open|
Senior Open/Amateur Winners
The R&A also provides the customary spots for the reigning senior and amateur champions. Fred Couples has not played in a British Open since 2006, but Boom Boom is back thanks to a Senior Open win last year at Turnberry. The amateurs who qualify through the game's most coveted am events are often elite college players, with some of the older more traditional amateur players getting their shot at open qualifying sites. Steven Fox, Rhys Pugh, and Garrick Porteus are the three ams who will be on hand at Muirfield. Ironically, Pugh, a Welshman, and Porteus, an Englishman, both play their college golf in the state of Tennessee. Porteus earned the late invite by capturing last week's Amateur Championship, the first Englishman to do so since 2003.
|2012 Senior Open Champion|
|2012 U.S. Amateur Champion|
|2012 Euro Amateur Champion|
|2013 Amateur Champion|
A final amateur spot reserved for the McCormack Medal (top ranked am) was forfeited when University of Washington's Chris Williams turned pro two weeks ago at the Travelers Championship.
There are four more ways that a player can get last minute entry into the Open Championship. The R&A extends an invite to the winner of the Euro Tour's Scottish Open and PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, the two events held on each side of the pond in the week preceding the Open.
Finally, any players T5 or better in the Euro Tour's 2013 Race to Dubai standings and the PGA Tour's FedExCup standings at the end of this week's tournaments will also sneak in to the group at Muirfield. Billy Horschel, Boo Weekley, and Russell Henley are three candidates on the PGA Tour who could settle in the top five by the end of this week's event at The Greenbrier. Brett Rumford, Mikko Ilonen, and Richard Sterne are some of the prime candidates to qualify through next week's Race to Dubai standings. Horschel and Rumford are already inside the top five on their respective tours.
Of course, with this being an "Open" Championship, any weekend hacker -- or scratch, more accurately -- can play their way into the field. The U.S. Open reserves almost half the field for local qualifying on "golf's longest day" but the R&A opened up only 38 spots at different qualifying sites.
There were five international sites which featured qualifying sessions from January through June. As expected, the United States site in Dallas and the English site yielded some of the more accomplished qualifiers, with regular touring pros like Alvaro Quiros, Bud Cauley, Robert Karlsson, and Josh Teater getting in the hard way. Here are the 26 qualifiers from the five international sites:
|Australia - Kingston Heath Golf Club, Melbourne|
|Asia - Amata Spring Country Club, Bangkok|
|Africa - Royal Johannesburg & Kensington|
|Eduardo De La Riva|
|America - Gleneagles Country Club, Dallas|
|Europe - Sunningdale Golf Club, England|
And finally, the qualifying process finished on Tuesday in Scotland with the last 12 local spots filled. Several amateurs earned their way in during a day that featured a Colin Montgomerie fade and David Higgins mistakenly starting a playoff with 15 clubs, a two-stroke penalty that instantly knocked him out. Higgins reportedly put his clubs in his car at the conclusion of his round, and his caddie threw a spare wood back in the bag. When he was called back up for the extra holes, the caddie grabbed the bag but forgot to take out the extra club. Yikes.
With Higgins and Monty headed home, here are the 12 who did make it through the rounds of regional and local qualifying:
|Local Final Qualifying - All Scotland Venues|
|Gullane No. 1|
And there you have it, the 2013 British Open field with just two weeks to go before Muirfield. There could be up to six late exemptions through the methods noted above, but save for a withdrawal or two, the field is pretty much final with qualifying now over. Let's just hope that if there are any WDs, a certain elbow injury nagging Tiger Woods is not the cause of one.