Wide-open Open no guar­an­tee

Run of 1st-time win­ners in ma­jors may see its end at Royal Birk­dale

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

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.

EZRA SHAW/GETTY

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