So many new play­ers; Bri­tish Open up for grabs

No Tiger­like fig­ure dom­i­nat­ing golf

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DOUG FER­GU­SON

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.

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