Day, Spieth, DJ aiming for first Open win
LONDON — The 145th Open Championship begins at Royal Troon on Thursday with a host of big names vying for supremacy while a new breed are snapping at their heels looking to win golf's most famous trophy.
World No. 1 Jason Day and U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson are the bookmakers' favorites to win their first Open, with 2014 champion Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth close behind, and the likes of Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and Justin Rose all highly considered.
Zach Johnson defends his title after victory at St Andrews 12 months ago and the past six Opens at Troon have been won by Americans, with Todd Hamilton the most recent, in 2004.
On a course that rewards consistency and touch more than raw power, Johnson is out to build on his first major win at the U.S. Open, having also won next time out in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
Huge off the tee, the 32-year-old went close when Darren Clarke won in 2011 and former champion Phil Mickelson believes he has gone up a gear of late.
"He has a different confidence and belief, it seems, as well as his game is clicking," The Guardian quoted Mickelson. "He has the game to really step it up and win a lot of tournaments.
"He is so dominant off the tee with his accuracy and his length, that he is playing par four and fives from positions that gives a distinct advantage over many of the other guys in the field."
Day is trying to become the first Australian to win the Open since Greg Norman won the second of his two Claret Jugs in 1993.
The 28-year-old won his first major at the PGA Championship last year and said being No. 1 was not a burden.
"I think the stress of being No. 1 in the world is more of a motivating factor for me because I don't want to lose it," he told a pre-Open press conference.
"The greats have all held the trophy and to be able to hold that Claret Jug would be very pleasing and satisfying."
McIlroy, who missed the cut at the U.S. Open and who is searching for his best form, said a lot would depend on how hard the wind blows over the four days.
"I came here Thursday and Friday to have a look and I really liked what I saw," he told Sky Sports.
"The front nine is quite simple but if the wind changes on the back nine it can be really tough so you try to get under par on the front nine and hold on (to it) the back.
"If you put your ball in play off the tee, you give yourself opportunities. The greens are pretty small so if you find the green you are never too far away."
Staying out of the bunkers, as McIlroy found to his cost in practice when he took six shots to get out of a trap at the famous Postage Stamp par-three eighth hole, will be crucial.
Masters champion Danny Willett said he would love to be in the mix come Sunday afternoon, having won his first major at Augusta in April.
"Being British, this is the one we all really want to get our hands on," he said.
"I had a bit of a taste of it at St Andrews last year, playing with Zach in the last round, walking the last few holes being in contention. So it would be really, really special."
Former U.S. Open champion Rose said he felt ready to contend again, having arrived in Troon well over a week ago to prepare.
"Right now it feels like (I have) a calmness," he said. "I'm ready. I've seen the course in both winds and I feel like I am rounding into form. The rest is about: can you go out and do it? I feel ready and excited."
As for Spieth, who won two majors in 2015, his message was simple.
"I crave to have that trophy in my possession," he said.