Big names in fight for form com­ing into Bri­tish Open

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

While un­cer­tainty sur­rounds the form of lead­ing names such as Dustin John­son and Rory McIl­roy, the Bri­tish Open be­gins at Royal Birk­dale to­day with a plethora of play­ers hope­ful of win­ning the Claret Jug. When The Open last came to the links at South­port, near Liver­pool on the coast of north-west Eng­land, it was 2008 and Tiger Woods had just won the US Open. That was his 14th ma­jor, but Woods has not won any since and no longer does a sin­gle player dom­i­nate the sport. The last nine ma­jors have all been won by a dif­fer­ent name, go­ing back to Jor­dan Spi­eth’s back-to-back vic­to­ries at the Mas­ters and US Open 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 Hen­rik Sten­son in The Open at Troon 12 months ago. “I think it’s a re­ally im­pres­sive stat and it speaks to the state of the game. There are a lot of tremen­dous young play­ers right now,” Spi­eth, the 23-yearold world num­ber three, said on Tues­day. “And then you’ve got guys like Hen­rik and Dustin, guys who are still young, but guys who have been around in con­tention many, many times, and it was sooner or later go­ing to hap­pen, and it did. It was just a mat­ter of time for them.” But, with the likes of Ja­pan’s world num­ber two Hideki Mat­suyama look­ing a threat, can an­other first-time win­ner lift the Claret Jug in front of Birk­dale’s dis­tinc­tive white Art Deco club­house on Sun­day evening? “I think there’s a lot more guys who haven’t won ma­jors than guys who have that are play­ing, so the chances are it is go­ing to be some­body that hasn’t won one,” added Spi­eth. Spi­eth’s game is in a bet­ter place than world num­ber one John­son, who sat out the Mas­ters with a back in­jury and missed the cut in last month’s US Open at Erin Hills. Nev­er­the­less, John­son, 33, has re­mained the favourite for the $1.845 mil­lion first prize with most book­mak­ers this week, while fourth-ranked McIl­roy looks to climb out of a wor­ry­ing slump. He has missed the cut at three of the last five ma­jors and also failed to make the week­end on the links at the Ir­ish Open and Scot­tish Open re­cently. For­mi­da­ble chal­lenge -Padraig Har­ring­ton was the last win­ner at Birk­dale, a stun­ning par-70 course that winds its way through the sand dunes, nine years ago. He is the last player to suc­cess­fully de­fend the Claret Jug, and Sten­son will hope that is an omen for him, al­though he must know the sort of golf that saw him de­feat Phil Mick­el­son on the last day at Troon was once-in-a-life­time stuff. “I think once you win one, ob­vi­ously that’s off your shoul­der. And it’s more about putting your­self in con­tention again and try­ing to win a sec­ond one,” the Swede, 41, said on Tues­day. Five of the last six Open cham­pi­ons have been aged 39 or older. In 1998, Birk­dale crowned the 41-year-old Mark O’Meara, al­though a fresh-faced 17-yearold Justin Rose fin­ished fourth as an am­a­teur. Rose, along with lo­cal lad Tommy Fleet­wood, now look the best bets for a first English win­ner since Nick Faldo in 1992. Birk­dale is host­ing The Open for the 10th time all told, with Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer among the former cham­pi­ons here. 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 from a bush on his way to the ti­tle. The course has great his­tory and poses a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge, not least if the weather de­te­ri­o­rates. Con­di­tions were glo­ri­ous on Mon­day and Tues­day but it is set to be much cooler and more un­set­tled for Thurs­day’s first round and there is a risk it could be down­right un­pleas­ant by Fri­day. “I think it’s the fairest links golf course we play, it re­wards great golf,” said Rose. “But we re­ally haven’t played this course in good weather. This week

might not be great.”— AFP

Dustin John­son Jon Rahm

Jor­dan Spi­eth

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