Big names in fight for form go­ing into Bri­tish Open

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

The last Bri­tish Open at Royal Birk­dale was won by a golfer from across the Ir­ish Sea, some­thing Rory McIl­roy will hope is an omen ahead of this year’s cham­pi­onship start­ing on the English links next Thurs­day.

The 146th Open is the first to be held at the par-70 Birk­dale, set amidst the sand dunes in South­port, near Liver­pool in north­west Eng­land, since Padraig Har­ring­ton suc­cess­fully de­fended the Claret Jug in 2008. McIl­roy, who won his only Open to date not far away at Hoy­lake in 2014, is al­ways one of the main fo­cuses of at­ten­tion ahead of a ma­jor but the North­ern Ir­ish­man hardly comes into the tour­na­ment in his best form. He has missed the cut at three of the last five ma­jors and also failed to make the week­end at the re­cent Ir­ish Open.

“It’s been a re­ally frus­trat­ing year. Just hasn’t re­ally went the way I wanted it to,” the world num­ber four admitted in the wake of that dis­ap­point­ing show­ing. Of the venue, he added: “It all de­pends on the con­di­tions, but I don’t en­vis­age my­self hit­ting a lot of driv­ers at Birk­dale. It’s def­i­nitely a course where it dic­tates to you how you play.”

McIl­roy is far from the only big name with con­cerns about his game. World num­ber one Dustin John­son may be the book­mak­ers’ favourite but the 33-year-old has not been at his best since a back in­jury forced him to miss the Mas­ters-he re­turned to de­fend his US Open crown but promptly missed the cut. Jor­dan Spi­eth and se­con­dranked Hideki Mat­suyama of Ja­pan are in bet­ter shape, while de­fend­ing cham­pion Hen­rik Sten­son missed the cut at the sea­son’s first two ma­jors.

Sten­son beat Phil Mick­el­son in a thrilling shoot-out on the fi­nal day 12 months ago at Troon and is an­other who can read some­thing into Har­ring­ton’s tri­umph on the same links nine years ago.

That is the last time any­one re­tained the Claret Jug. Tiger Woods is the only other player to have achieved the feat in 30 years. With no one player now able to dom­i­nate the sport since the demise of Woods, the last nine ma­jors have all been won by a dif­fer­ent name, go­ing back to Spi­eth’s back-to­back vic­to­ries at the US Open and Mas­ters in 2015. In­deed, the last seven ma­jors have all been claimed by play­ers who had never pre­vi­ously taken one of the sport’s big­gest prizes, in­clud­ing Brooks Koepka at last month’s US Open and Sten­son 12 months ago. “It’s kind of like be­fore and af­ter hav­ing kids,” said the Swede on how life changed for him af­ter end­ing his ma­jor search.

Sten­son has taken the tro­phy ev­ery­where with him, in­clud­ing on a jet ski in Florida, but now he must re­luc­tantly hand it back be­fore try­ing to win it again, along with the $1.845 mil­lion win­ner’s cheque. “I haven’t played my best golf this year. I’ve been quite busy off the course, and I’m sure that’s im­pacted the per­for­mances to a de­gree. But at the same time, I don’t feel like it’s miles away,” he added. Ser­gio Gar­ci­awho sported his Mas­ters green jacket on a re­cent visit to Wim­ble­don-is an­other Euro­pean star who re­cently ended his long search for a ma­jor, but his­tory favours the Amer­i­cans at Birk­dale. Five of the nine pre­vi­ous Opens held here have seen an Amer­i­can lift the Claret Jug in front of the white Art Deco club­house, in­clud­ing Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer.

The lat­ter won the first of his two Opens at Birk­dale in 1961, and a plaque sits by the 16th fair­way to com­mem­o­rate a fa­mous shot he hit out of a bush on his way to se­cur­ing the ti­tle. — AFP

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