Johannesburg - With an unforgiving course and some of the world’s top players challenging for first place, the action at Royal Birkdale is set to keep fans on their toes.
When the 146th British Open tees off at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, London, on Thursday, all eyes will be on defending champion Henrik Stenson.
The Swedish idol’s name is still etched in the minds of many players and fans following his heroic feat at last year’s event at Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland, where he set a record by posting -20 and became the British Open’s highest under par scorer in its history.
Stenson surpassed the feat accomplished by Tiger Woods, who had carded -19 to lead the pack at the contest staged at St Andrews Links, also in Scotland, in 2000.
Stenson is the first Swedish professional golfer in history to win the major British Open.
And he is hell-bent on setting a new par margin record when he tees it up against some of the world’s finest in the year’s penultimate big one.
But Stenson, who edged out veteran American Phil Mickelson by three strokes to get his hands on the Claret Jug, will be up against a strong challenge from some of the previous winners.
“Lefty”, as Mickelson is nicknamed because of his left-hand swing, will be making a return to this year’s edition hoping to repeat the showing that saw him snatch the 2013 edition at Muirfield in Scotland by beating Stenson by three shots.
Other top dogs expected to steal the thunder include Sergio Garcia from Spain, Jordan Spieth from the US, Lee Westwood from England and Jason Day from Australia.
The important aspect of the upcoming British Open is that it will be coming back to Royal Birkdale after an eight-year absence. The last time it was at the venue was in 2008, when Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington made a successful defence by beating Ian Poulter by four strokes.
The Scotland course itself will be quite unforgiving to players as the greens will not be easy to manoeuvre. This was clearly demonstrated when Harrington carded three over par in his previous victory there.
Competitors can expect a tough time as holes one and 15 are challenging, and will make for atrocious play for some of the competitors.
South Africa is represented by the usual suspects, including Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Brandon Stone and Richard Sterne, who are listed as among those who will compete in the big tournament.