This may have to be quite a show. The Open will fittingly begin with Royal Troon’s adopted son, Colin Montgomerie, attempting to fade an iron shot from the 1st tee at 6.35am on Thursday. By the time the third major of the year reaches its conclusion on Sunday evening in Ayrshire, perhaps talk of Rio and golf’s turbulent marriage with the Olympics will be temporarily suspended. One can but hope.
Open week has so far been dominated by Games fallout. As the sun glistened on the Firth of Clyde, the Isle of Arran typically resplendent in the background, the championship scene was finally set. The nuts and bolts of golf mean the extent to which wind whips off that same stretch of water will play a part in the Claret Jug’s destination.
The good news is that there is no lack of talent. Though the list of Open champions since Tiger Woods in 2006 – Rory McIlroy’s triumph of 2014 aside – suggests favourite-backers will be disappointed, surely the players on view render an outsider victory unlikely. History perhaps points towards nationality; six Americans in a row have won at Troon stretching back to 1962.
McIlroy, who was unable to defend his title in 2015 due to injury, has finished third, fourth and first in three of his last four events but missed the cut in the other, the US Open at Oakmont, and has not won a major since 2014.
“It’s not just about turning up and playing and collecting a trophy,” McIlroy said. “It’s a very long career, so there’s plenty of time to try and rack up more major championships. If that means I have to go through a dry spell of two years, then so be it. I’m pretty confident that, if I do play my best golf, then there’s a good chance that I’ll end up coming out on top.”
He may not be the outright favourite this time but he is the most intriguing name, owing to the verbal volley he blasted at the Olympic scene this week. When he is afforded a spark or a cause, the results tend to be spectacular. This may well be one such tournament.
Without being overly disrespectful to Todd Hamilton and Justin Leonard, a Troon run of unlikely champions should, all the evidence suggests, be broken. Dustin Johnson’s form rightly stands out, as secured by successes at the US Open and WGC Bridgestone Invitational. A squally June and July has played directly into the powerful Johnson’s hands; golf’s biggest hitters will look to prevail on the lush links of Troon, where brute force is now a benefit.
Johnson may not be the convivial, storytelling type but he lacks nothing in confidence.
“If I have my best stuff, I believe so,” he replied when asked if he can defeat any field. “I like my chances but I go into every tournament liking my chances. I feel like I’ve been playing really solidly all year long. Winning the last two tournaments I’ve played in, obviously I’m on a good run right now. But I feel like the run started at the beginning of the year. It’s just continuing.
“So I’m just not changing anything that I’m doing. I will keep working on the same things. My practice routine’s the same. I’ve been doing the same thing all year and I’m going to continue to do the same thing.
“I feel like if I keep playing like I am, then yes, I will win a few more majors. I’ve always liked tough tests of golf. So any time the course is very hard I feel like it gives me more of an advantage. The harder the course is, the more I like it.”
He added: “I don’t expect any more from myself. I always expect to come out and perform and to contend. But I mean, it’s definitely a little bit different coming out and not trying to win that first major. That’s the biggest difference, I’m not trying to get my first victory at a major any more.
“The mind-set’s just different. I’m not trying to win the first one. I already have. So on Sunday, if I’m in contention, just knowing that I can get it done is a big confidence booster coming down the stretch.”
Should Johnson lift the Claret Jug, Jason Day’s position as the world’s No1 player would be under threat. “It’s definitely something I’d like to get to,” Johnson said. “I’ve still got a little way to go. Jason’s in front of me pretty well, so I’ve just got to keep putting myself in position to win tournaments and keep getting it done.”
Day is clearly a threat. Jordan Spieth is a work in progress could come perfectly together on any given week, as the Texan knows only too well. “I’ve still won twice and been second in a major,” Spieth said. “If that’s a valley, then that’s going to be a lot of fun when we get back up to a peak.”
Troon’s scoring enjoyment, in a prevailing breeze, comes during the opening phase of holes. The postage stamp 8th aside, they are straightforward. If that area of the course can see hopes raised, the closing holes offer a permanent prospect of disaster. Look out for dreams fading and tempers flashing from the 13th tee onwards.
“The Open’s quality lies in the sum of its most vital components; the stage, the players and the spectators,” said Peter Unsworth, the chairman of the championship committee. “We are presenting Royal Troon in the best possible condition. We are welcoming the very best players in the world and collectively we’ll be inspiring a large, knowledgeable and passionate golf crowd intent on seeing golf’s true test produce a champion golfer of the year.”
What’s new at Troon
1) The new 15th fairway
Since the 15th hole was realigned in 1923, the tees and fairway have gradually moved to the right, perhaps due to low areas of the old fairway lying wet during the winter months. With this in mind, the R&A took the decision to realign the fairway for this year’s tournament. Unbeknown to them, however, this year’s realignment placed the hole exactly where it was back in 1923. A new challenge for the players, perhaps, but also an old slice of Open history.
2) Sky TV’s coverage
To anyone who has ever watched Sky Sports, the depth of their coverage goes without saying. Naturally, their recent acquisition of TV rights to The Open will see a surfeit of new coverage features introduced. Most prominent among these is the so-called Open Zone – essentially a small square area in which fans can chat with unoccupied players and even receive impromptu coaching, all mediated via TV pundits. It sounds fun enough, but what more traditionalist fans make of it remains to be seen.
3) The “Open Camping Village”
If you’ve just turned 26, look away now. In an initiative designed to lure in young spectators for 2016, the R&A have offered free accommodation to all ticket-holders aged 25 and under at the so-called “Open Camping Village”. Located near Royal Troon at Marr Rugby Club, a site of pre-pitched two, four and six person tents will host up to 500 spectators each night from the 10th until the 17th of July. Any child under 16 can also stay in the Village, provided they are accompanied by at least one adult. Charlie Wood
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