So many new players; British Open up for grabs
No Tigerlike figure dominating golf
An era of dominance in the majors ended the last time the British Open was at Royal Birkdale, even if nobody knew it.
Tiger Woods piled up so many majors so quickly that when he had knee surgery following his 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines and had to sit out the last two majors, a few wags suggested that the next name engraved on the claret jug should include an asterisk.
Woods won 13 out of 36 majors in the nine years leading up to that 2008 British Open, and only three other players — Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen — won more than one. Sixteen players captured one major during that stretch.
In the 36 majors leading up to this next Open at Royal Birkdale, six players have won multiple majors. Rory McIlroy has won four of them. No one else has won more than twice, while 22 players have each won once.
There is no longer talk about an asterisk. Now it’s more like a question mark. Who’s next? “I think the competition on a weekly basis is so tight out there and so tough,” defending champion Henrik Stenson said. “Whether it’s a trend or if this is going to continue or not, or if there is going to be a few guys stepping up and becoming second and third-time winners, I guess that’s yet to be seen. But in general, it’s very hard to predict who is going to do well any other week. It’s been like that in the last year-and-a-half in the majors, for sure.”
Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open at Erin Hills and became the seventh consecutive first-time major champion, a streak that began with Jason Day in the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
It is the second-longest streak since 1934 when the Masters began. The longest streak was nine consecutive first-timers from Graeme McDowell (2010 U.S. Open) to Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open), which coincided with Woods’ recovery from the mess in his personal life. The reason there wasn’t a long stretch of first-time major champions was a dominant figure — Woods, Nick Faldo and Nick Price, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer.
Whether it’s a trend or merely a cycle, odds would seem to favour the streak ending at Royal Birkdale when the 146th edition of the British Open starts July 20.
No other links course in the current Open rotation has a better track record of rewarding major champions.
Padraig Harrington won at Birkdale in 2008 for his second straight British Open title (no asterisk necessary). A decade earlier, Mark O’Meara won his second major of the year when he beat Brian Watts in a playoff.
Only two of the eight British Open champions at Royal Birkdale had not previously won a major — Ian Baker-Finch in 1991 and Peter Thomson, who won the first of his five Open titles in 1954 — giving the links along the Lancashire Coast of England the lowest rate of first-time major champions on the Open rotation.
“It’s very difficult to win a first major,” Jordan Spieth said. “You’re dealing with somebody that has been there before.” Maybe so. But in six of the last seven Grand Slam events, a major champion was the runner-up. The exception was the U.S. Open last month, in which none of the top 20 on the leaderboard in Wisconsin had ever won a major.
There are more candidates than ever to become a multiple major winner.