NO CLEAR FAVOURITE

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

South­port, UK - While un­cer­tainty sur­rounds the form of lead­ing names such as Dustin John­son and Rory McIl­roy, the Bri­tish Open be­gins at Royal Birk­dale on Thurs­day 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 year old world No 3, 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 No 2 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 No 1 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 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.

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 17 year old Justin Rose fin­ished fourth as an am­a­teur.

(AFP)

North­ern Ire­land's Rory McIl­roy watches his shot from the light rough dur­ing a prac­tice round on Tues­day

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