Southport - Dustin Johnson is aiming to show why he is
ranked number one in the world and emerge from a field full of potential
winners at the British Open, which gets underway at Royal Birkdale on Thursday.
Johnson, 33, has not made an impression at the majors so far
this year, missing the Masters with a back injury and missing the cut at the US
Open, where he was the defending champion.
That makes it hard to say he is anything more than just
another contender among many at Birkdale, the par-70 links in the town of
Southport, on the Lancashire coast of north-west England.
"I feel like I play well over here. I like this kind of
golf. You use a lot of imagination. You've got to use a lot of different shots.
I really enjoy coming over here and playing," said Johnson, who tees off
at 2:48pm (1348 GMT) in his first round on Thursday.
He goes out in an all-star group with 2011 Masters champion
Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and world number four Rory McIlroy.
The Northern Irishman won the Open in 2014, not far from
Birkdale at Royal Liverpool.
He has been in poor recent form, missing the cut at the
Irish and Scottish Opens in the past fortnight, but he is hopeful of winning a
fifth major and a second Claret Jug come Sunday.
If he can do that, it would mean a 10th different winner in
10 majors, although it would end a remarkable run of the last seven being won
by first-time major winners.
"I hope it's me at the end of the week that's standing
on the 18th green and getting the Claret Jug. But that is sort of where golf is
at the moment. No one is really standing out and sort of taking it by the
scruff of the neck," said McIlroy on Wednesday.
The run of new major winners includes Sweden's Henrik
Stenson triumphing in the Open at Troon 12 months ago in a thrilling final-day
duel with Phil Mickelson.
Organisers would settle for such a memorable climax this
year, but picking a standout name is almost impossible.
Sergio Garcia comes with the Masters green jacket looking to
keep the Claret Jug in Europe, while fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm and world number
two Hideki Matsuyama of Japan are among those looking to break their major
World number three Jordan Spieth, who tees off at 9:47am
alongside Stenson and South Korea's Kim Si-Woo, is in good shape.
The view among the field is unanimous that Birkdale is one
of the finest links courses of them all.
"I think the golf course is certainly a better test
than St Andrews is," said Spieth.
With just two par fives, at 15 and 17, it doesn't play long,
meaning many players might not even bother putting a driver in the bag.
But instead the onus is on craft and avoiding the many
pitfalls, notably the 499-yard par-four sixth, a left-to-right dog-leg that was
the hardest hole on the course the last time the Open came here in 2008.
Padraig Harrington won then, and is still the last player to
successfully defend the Claret Jug.
He is 45 now, but recent years have shown that age is not
really a barrier to succeeding in the Open.
"A lot of the younger guys are physically gifted, but
they don't have the experience with links golf. Assuming decent, tough enough
conditions, it's a tournament for experience," Harrington said.
He will recall that the weather was often nasty nine years
ago and the conditions will again play a crucial part in the 146th
After fine conditions on Monday and Tuesday, practice was
abandoned on Wednesday as heavy rain and thunderstorms came in off the Irish
This is the 10th Open to be held at Birkdale. Former winners
include Arnold Palmer, in 1961, and Mark O'Meara.
The latter, now 60, won in 1998 and will have the honour of
playing the championship's first tee shot when he goes out in the bright and
early slot of 07:35.