Wide-open Open no guarantee
Run of 1st-time winners in majors may see its end at Royal Birkdale
There’s a group of first-time major champions heading into the British Open, and the field is wide open. No other links course in the current Open rotation has a better track record than Royal Birkdale of rewarding major champions. Only two of the eight British Open champions at Royal Birkdale had not previously won a major.
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 after his 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines and had to sit out the last two majors, a few writers suggested that the next name engraved on the claret jug should include an asterisk.
Woods won 13 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 Open at Royal Birkdale, six players have won multiple majors. Rory McIlroy has won four. No one else has won more than twice, while 22 players have 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 Despite struggling of late, Dustin Johnson is a candidate to end the run of first-time major winners. 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.
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). 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 favor the streak ending at Royal Birkdale when the 146th edition of the British Open starts Thursday.
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. 146TH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP Thursday-Sunday. Royal Birkdale (7,156 yards, par 70). 156 players aggregate score. 4 holes, Henrik Stenson.
Thursday-Friday, 1:30 a.m.4 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday, 4:30-7 a.m. (Golf Channel), 7 a.m.-3 p.m. (NBC); Sunday, 4-7 a.m. (Golf Channel), 7 a.m.2 p.m. (NBC). 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.
There are more candidates than ever to become a multiple major winner because 23 of the last 33 major champions had never won one before. Odds are one of them — Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Day — will pick off another one.
Then again, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler are among those who could keep the streak of first-timers going.
No one is as motivated as Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world. As dominant as he was in February and March, winning three straight tournaments against the strongest fields of the year at the time, the majors have been a mystery since he won the U.S. Open last year at Oakmont.
Johnson hasn’t played the weekend of a major since last year’s British Open. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship, withdrew from the Masters with a back injury and missed the cut at the U.S. Open. He has not played a tournament since then.