When Rory McIlroy is on, no one can touch him.Let's start with the obvious. For all of the peaks and valleys thus far in McIlroy's still-young career, one thing is apparent: when he finds his groove, he is unbeatable. Perhaps it's too early to debate whether McIlroy at his best could have challenged Tiger Woods at his -- Woods' body of work is still the standard -- but we're getting closer. McIlroy's driving prowess, his rhythm with the putter, his sublime bunker play -- they all help explain why the Northern Irishman has a proven knack for running out in front of the competition and never looking back. Unlike Woods, McIlroy hasn't quite mastered the art of gutting it out when he's fighting his swing. But give him time. At this point, he'll get there.-- Sam Weinman
But Rory still needs to show he can win a tight one.Should we be complaining about the ways a guy wins three majors before he turns 26? Probably not. Still, it's worth noting how McIlroy's three major wins have come in quite similar fashion: on difficult courses left vulnerable by placid conditions, and by building a sizable advantage and cruising from there. That alone isn't necessarily a bad thing. But it does speak to the chasm between McIlroy at his best and those weeks he's a hair out of sync. In other words, McIlroy's too good to only win when everything's clicking. Imagine how big his major haul can be when he develops a bit more grit. -- S.W.
It's getting easier to root for Sergio Garcia.From energetic upstart to petulant prodigy to miserable malcontent, Garcia's rickety reputation has long been a point of consternation. Finally, at 34, it appears the Spaniard has ditched his boorish ways and replaced them with a new trait: humility. Fans embraced Garcia throughout the week, particularly Sunday when he applied the most pressure in the chase of Rory McIlroy. Garcia returned their affection, including an 18th-hole salute that has us excited to see if he will finally capture his elusive first major. -- Ryan Herrington
Tom Watson is giving Sam Snead a run as the best old golfer ever.People often remark that Watson has a "timeless swing." It's not a cliche. Five years removed from nearly pulling off the most remarkable win in golf history at the 2009 Open at Turnberry (where he eventually lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink), Watson is still amazing us. At 64, he extended his own record for the oldest player to make the cut at the Open (two weeks after also making the cut at the Greenbrier Classic) and then shot a final-round 68 to finish T-51, beating guys like Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar who he might be captaining later this year at the Ryder Cup. Snead still holds the record for making a tour cut at age 67, but it's easy to picture Watson breaking that mark after weeks like this.-- Alex Myers
Rickie Fowler will win a major within a year.For a golfer who still has way more endorsement deals than wins, the 2014 season has been a conversation-changer. Since taking on Butch Harmon as his swing coach, Fowler has had a T-5 in the Masters, a T-2 in the U.S. Open and, now, four rounds in the 60s at the Open en route to another T-2 (making him the first player since Tiger Woods in 2005 to place in the top five in the year's first three majors). Sure, maybe Fowler needs to do more in regular tour events before he can be considered a serious contender in majors. But some players relish the biggest stages, and Fowler has already proven to be one of those.-- S.W.
Forget about Tiger Woods catching Jack.Just a few weeks earlier, Woods couldn't even make the weekend in a tour event, so perhaps this Open should count as progress. Nonetheless, pair Woods' paltry results in 2014 with a now six-plus year drought in the game's biggest events, and we're asking A LOT to think he can string together four or five major titles at his advanced age. Is a completely healthy Woods still the premier player in golf? We think so. But he's not nearly as resilient as he once was, and the mounting pressure that would come as he inched closer to Nicklaus' record would surely be suffocating. -- S.W.
The R&A isn't so Ancient after all.For too long, rigid and stuffy has been the default description for the folks in St. Andrews. But just as the R&A has done itself, it's time to rethink the way we look at the organization. Technology innovations such as electronic leader boards and WiFi coverage all around Royal Liverpool made the Open's spectator experience the rival of any major's. When logic dictated a two-tee start Saturday to avoid bad weather, officials boldly bucked 154 years of history. Add the recent decision to bring the Open to Royal Portrush and, well, this isn't your great-great grandfather's governing body any more. -- R.H.
Hitting it far at the British Open is more important than hitting it straight at the British Open.Links golf often conjures up a lot of notions about precision, most of which are true, but it's proven not to be the most important factor in deciding who wins British Opens. Tiger Woods and Ernie Els were each big hitters who have five claret jugs between them, while David Duval, Phil Mickelson and now Rory McIlroy are each long hitters who have won Opens. It's becoming increasingly clear what kind of players thrive across the pond, and let's just say they're not the ones obsessed with keeping it in the fairway. -- Luke Kerr-Dineen
Getting the good side of the draw in the British Open is really, really important.This year, the magic combination was playing early on Thursday and late on Friday. How important was that? Through 36 holes, only one player in the top 10 and two in the top 20 had played in the opposite half of the draw. Of course, those leaders going into the weekend got one more break when the R&A decided to use split tees for the first time in tournament history and move all the tee times up on Saturday to avoid bad weather. -- A.M.
Henrik Stenson's temper is holding him back.Henrik Stenson has trashed a locker, broken a driver and now, at this year's British Open, snapped a wedge over his knee. It's good for players to have a little fire, but if Stenson wants to take his game to the next level and win a major, he'd do well to dial back the intensity a notch or two. -- L.K.D.
The Scottish courses in the Open rota are way better.Look, Hoylake is a great course, but its biggest claim to fame remains being "that place that played really firm and fast and allowed Tiger Woods to win the Open despite only hitting driver once." Seriously, what defining course characteristic will you remember? Same question for Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Royal St. George's (the nuclear power plant?) and Royal Birkdale (the wacky clubhouse?). Stack them against the quintet of St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Muirfield, Troon and Turnberry, and Scotland wins, 9 and 8. -- A.M.
Rickie Fowler looks better without facial hair.We appreciate that Rickie is golf's biggest trendsetter, but he missed the mark on this one. Experiment with your facial hair, by all means, but don't get too jazzy with it. -- L.K.D.
Victor Dubuisson is Europe's best young player not named Rory McIlroy.Rory McIlroy obviously stole the show at Hoylake, but Dubuisson was another twentysomething European who stood out. The 2014 British Open was just the Frenchman's second major as a professional, but his T-9 finish bumps him inside the top 20 of the world rankings and makes the 24-year-old all but a lock for the Ryder Cup team. He's still won only once on the European Tour, but he's nevertheless laying the foundation for what looks to be a very promising career.-- L.K.D.
The U.S. will be a heavy underdog at this fall's Ryder Cup.It doesn't bode well that Americans were relatively quiet at the British Open, with only Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk finishing in the top 10. And Phil Mickelson still doesn't rank inside the top 10 on the points list, to the chagrin of captain Tom Watson, who also has to figure out what to do about Tiger Woods. Conversely, the Euros had six top 10s at Hoylake, including winner Rory McIlroy. Plus Justin Rose has claimed recent wins, and Martin Kaymer's U.S. Open romp is fresh in everyone's memory. -- R.H.
Jimmy Walker isn't a fluke.When Walker won the Frys.com Open to begin the season for his first PGA Tour win in 188 starts, it was a nice story. When he won two more events early in 2014, it was one of the most surprising hot streaks in golf history. But while Walker, who has led the FedEx Cup points list all season, hasn't kept winning, he's proven that spurt wasn't a fluke. Walker is the only player to finish in the top 10 at the Masters, U.S. Open and Players, and he looked poised for another top 10 in just his second British Open start until a late triple bogey on Sunday. Like Jason Dufner in recent years, Walker, 35, has officially reached the status as a late bloomer we have to take seriously. -- A.M.