July 20, 2017: There have been seven first-time major champions in a row, dating back to Jason Day’s victory at the US PGA Championship in 2015. The question many are asking at Royal Birkdale this week is if the run is likely to continue at The 146th Open?
Jordan Spieth, a two-time major champion and former world No.1, said he would not be surprised if another first-time winner emerged on Sunday. “I think it’s a really impressive stat and it speaks to the state of the game,” he said. “There are a lot of tremendous young players right now.”
It is hard to disagree with Spieth – or Rory McIlroy, or Dustin Johnson, for that matter, both of whom spoke today of the fine margins between success and failure at the highest levels of the game.
Following Day’s victory in 2015 there have been wins for: Danny Willett (Masters 2016), Johnson (US Open 2016), Henrik Stenson (Open 2016), Jimmy Walker (US PGA Championship 2016), Sergio Garcia (Masters 2017) and Brooks Koepka (US Open 2017).
Needless to say, all seven will be pushing hard to add the most coveted trophy in the game to their collection, in Stenson’s case for the second year in succession. But while they are also certain to face fierce opposition from the likes of McIlroy, Spieth and Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, there are a number of rising stars waiting in the wings.
Among them is Hideki Matsuyama, the 25-year-old world No.2 from Japan, who finished runner-up at the US Open last month and has secured victories this year at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Another young player in top form is Spain’s Jon Rahm. He has good feelings for links golf, having recently beaten the rest of the field into submission at the Irish Open, where he won by six strokes. After fewer than 15 months in the professional ranks, he has two wins to his name and has climbed to No.7 in the world.
Watch out, too, for Sweden’s Alex Noren, a quiet man of the game who won four times on the European Tour in 2016 and waltzed off with the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May after a final round of 62 over the West Course. His world ranking of No.9 does not lie.
Then there is Rickie Fowler, the world No.10, who has the temperament to cope with all that the weather gods might throw at him; Justin Thomas, a fellow American with three wins to his name in 2017; local hero Tommy Fleetwood, whose victory at the French Open last month has seen him climb to No.14 in the world; and fellow Englishman Paul Casey, the world No.16, who has come in under the radar but whose experience and know-how should not be underestimated. Completing a strong Spanish contingent is Rafa Cabrera Bello, winner of the Scottish Open last weekend.