Sun, Jul 16, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Big names seek form as The Open looms


Rory McIlroy plays a shot at The Open at Royal Troon in Scotland on July 17 last year.

Photo: AFP

The previous 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 to begin on the English links on Thursday.

The 146th Open is the first to be held at the par-70 Birkdale, set amid 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 past five majors and also failed to make the weekend at the Irish Open.

“It’s been a really frustrating year. Just hasn’t really went the way I wanted it to,” the world No. 4 said in the wake of that disappointing showing.

Of the venue, he said: “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 No. 1 Dustin Johnson may be the bookmakers’ favorite, 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 second-ranked 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 previous nine majors have all been won by a different name, going back to Spieth’s back-to-back victories at the US Open and Masters in 2015.

Indeed, the past 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,” the Swede said on how life changed for him after ending his major search.

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