Tiger Woods was once as short as 9/4 to win the Open Championship. It was probably after he’d romped to a 15-shot success in the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach and duly vindicated those short odds by winning just as impressively a few weeks later at St Andrews, where he finished eight strokes clear of the field.
Guess what odds the favourite is for this week’s Claret Jug joust at Royal Birkdale? According to William Hill at least, it’s 14-1 and the person carrying that tag has no argument whatsoever about that seeming to be extremely generous in comparison to those being offered in the not too distant past in this event.
The reason, it must be said, is quite simple. Jordan Spieth may have two majors to his name and is coming into this one on the back of recently becoming just the second player after Woods to win 10 PGA Tour events before turning 24, but he sees no justification for him or anyone else carrying odds suggesting they can dominate like Tiger once did.
“I doubt you’ll see a dominance like that maybe ever again in the game,” said the 27-year-old Texan in his usual frank and rereshing interview in the build up to the season’s third major on the Lancashire coast. “What Tiger did for years is very tough to do. And you have to have a lot of things go right at the right times. I also think guys are learning and getting stronger. Guys are winning younger playing more fearless, even in major championships, and I think it is so difficult now for someone to have a spell of domination like Tiger did.”
Not that Spieth is bothered by that, even if being unable to be leading force himself means adding to his Masters and US Open triumphs two years ago will be tough as a consequence. “I think it’s going to be a very exciting time going forward of guys that are going to be battling against each other,” he added, referring to the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and, of course, himself. “You’ll see a group of 10-12 guys over the next 15-20 years that are going to be very competitive with each other coming down the stretch. It’s different than one person being the guy to beat and I think that’s exciting for us as players.”
Spieth still rates his Open Championship debut at Muirfield as his most enjoyable experience in the event so far. “I really, really enjoyed Muirfield,” he said in recalling that 2013 appearance. He was tested that year on a dry and fiery course and has also seen the “wicked” side of a British summer, notably on the Friday at Royal Troon 12 months ago. Now Spieth is licking his lips at the prospect of trying to become the fifth American winner at Birkdale after Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Mark O’Meara. “I like the golf course, it’s very cool,” he said of this week’s test. “It’s a very tough but fair test, one that’s demanding off the tee. The greens aren’t crazy. It’s about controlling your ball off the tee in these conditions (some wind is in the forecast almost throughout the event) to give yourself the opportunity to hit the centre of the green. At this tournament, it tends to fall on half of the field (for a potential winner) because a lot depends on the draw. It may be the easiest of the majors to win just because the draw can take out half a field.”
Spieth is returning to the coalface “with a little fire and a little longing to get back to work” following a short break, which coincided with Rahm propelling himself into the frame as one of the leading contenders to extend a run of seven consecutive first-time major winners on the back of a scintillating six-shot success in the recent Irish Open at Portstewart. Having also won on the PGA Tour earlier in the year, the 22-year-old comes into only his second appearance in this event as the world No 7, with comparisons being made to Seve Ballesteros, who announced his arrival on the scene as fresh-faced youngster himself at Birkdale in 1976 when finishing runner-up to Miller.
“If I could do a quarter of whatever Seve did, I’d probably be satisified with my career,” declared Rahm. “When I’m compared to him, it’s really beautiful to hear as he’s a geat idol of mine and I try to take it as a positive and embrace it. But I’m never going to be Seve. He was so unique and so special. If we ever see someone like him again, it is going to be someone very, very special. I’m different to him. I’m trying to be the best Jon Rahm can be.”
Given what he’s achieved in such a short time, it is easy to forget that Rahm is still learning the ropes in majors. “This is only my fourth one and it still takes a little bit of adjusting,” he admitted. “Last year in The Open at Troon, I was playing as a pro for the first time and my game wasn’t there yet. But I take a lot of positives coming in here this week from my recent performance in Ireland. If it’s not my best, it’s really close and there are a lot of positives that I’m going to be able to apply this week.”
The same applies to Brooks Koepka following his US Open win at Erin Hills last month and he’s aiming to make up for lost time in this event after missing out 12 months ago due to an injury. “Not playing The Open last year was disappointing, so it’s good to be back and play some links golf,” he said. “I love links golf. I think it’s the best kind of golf you can play. So much imagination goes into it. There’s so many different shots and the way my mind kind of works, it benefits me.”