2017 The Open Championship: Jordan Spieth in the driving seat

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Jordan Spieth will learn from his Masters collapse as well as his major triumphs as he tries to secure the third leg of the career grand slam in the Open Championship.

A second bogey-free 65 of the week means Spieth will take a three-shot lead over Matt Kuchar into Sunday’s final round at Royal Birkdale, with US Open champion Brooks Koepka three shots further back alongside 20-year-old Canadian Austin Connelly.

Victory on Sunday would make Spieth only the second player after Jack Nicklaus to have won three of the game’s four majors before the age of 24 and he could then surpass Tiger Woods as the youngest player to complete a career grand slam in next month’s US PGA at Quail Hollow.

However, the 23-year-old American is well aware that memories of his collapse in the final round of the 2016 Masters, where he blew a five-shot lead with nine holes to play, remain fresh in the memory

“I’ve had a five-shot lead in a major and squandered it before,” said Spieth, who won the Masters and US Open in 2015 and missed out on a play-off for the Open at St Andrews by a single shot.

“I’ve had the high and the humbling so I will keep my head down and not get ahead of myself.

“I think I’m in a position where it can be very advantageous, just everything I’ve gone through, the good, the bad and everything in the middle. I understand that leads can be squandered quickly, and I also understand how you can keep on rolling on one.

“It was a humbling experience that I thought at the time could serve me well going forward. And if I don’t win tomorrow, it has nothing to do with that. It has to do with it was someone else’s day, and I didn’t play as well as I should have.

“And if I win tomorrow it has nothing to do with that, either. You’re learning and it all goes into the mental process.

“Tomorrow will be a day that will be emotionally draining and difficult to stay very neutral in the head, but that’s probably the most important thing for me to do.”

Provided by Press Association

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The Open Championship has produced surprise winners in the past and trend could continue

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A major championship is never short of intriguing storylines and the 146th Open Championship, starting on Thursday at Royal Birkdale, is no exception.

The oldest major in the sport wears a most open look. While the world No1 Dustin Johnson is installed as the pre-tournament favourite, he clearly isn’t the most in-form player.

Perennial favourite Rory McIlroy is also struggling, while defending champion Henrik Stenson would have loved to travel to the golf course, near Liverpool, with some better recent rounds under his belt. In the past few years, the one theme that has run through most Opens is that it favours experienced players.

McIlroy is the one exception of a young 20-something lifting the Claret Jug, but then he is an exceptional player. Then of course, there is the uncanny ability of links courses to throw up surprise winners. Be it the virtually unknown Ben Curtis in 2003 and Todd Hamilton in 2004, or unlikely champions in Stewart Cink (2009), or even Darren Clarke in 2011.

Such is the nature of the links courses that players who have an advantage over the rest of the field in other tournaments struggle to make the necessary adjustments. Take Phil Mickelson and McIlroy for example this week – they are doing something with their bag that they won’t do in any other tournament. Mickelson, the 2013 champion, has taken out his driver, while McIlroy is putting in a 1-iron.

Players like Hamilton, Cink and Zach Johnson (2015) have shown that length off the tee is certainly not the overriding criteria for a good score at The Open. More important is the ability to stay patient in a tournament where you are bound to get bad bounces and terrible weather conditions.

So, let’s have a look at some of the storylines worth following over the next four days… It’s the Open Championship and all eyes are on McIlroy. Even if it wasn’t held in the UK, the Northern Irishman would have been the most followed player. He has truly become the game’s next superstar after Tiger Woods.

If one goes purely by his results, his chances are not looking very good. Missing two successive cuts on links courses is not the greatest preparation, but the four competitive rounds that he could manage might just be the tonic McIlroy needs as he tries to rectify a season that has been ravaged by his rib injury at the start of the year.

Then there is Johnson. Like McIlroy, he is also coming into the tournament with successive missed cuts. The American was in Woods mode before the Masters, winning three tournaments in three starts, but the fall from the stairs that ruled him out of Augusta National, seems to have cooled him down substantially.

Stenson is another star who is struggling for form and will have to pull something extraordinary out of the hat to become a first repeat winner of The Open since Padraig Harrington at the same venue in 2008. However, if the Swede’s ironplay is on song, he’d be a strong contender.

Which brings us to the players who have shown good recent form. Jordan Spieth has two wins this season, including one in his last outing at the Travelers Championship. He showed he could play in bad weather in 2015 when he finished fourth at St Andrews despite getting the bad end of the draw.

Jordan Speith has shown good form of late

Jordan Speith has shown good form of late

World No2 Hideki Matsuyama leads the Asian challenge and he has been a force since the end of last year. It would be interesting to see if he, or Korean Kim Si-woo, winner of this year’s Players Championship, can step up and follow in the foosteps of YE Yang, who won the 2009 PGA Championship.

There is a lot of buzz around the Spanish players. Jon Rahm and Rafael Cabrera Bello won the last two European Tour events on links courses, while Sergio Garcia has a fantastic record at The Open. Another in-form player is the local hero Tommy Fleetwood.

An Open record of three missed cuts in three starts would not inspire much confidence, but then Fleetwood has won two huge events this year, including the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he is clearly looking like a player who can reverse his past record.

Among other Englishmen, Justin Rose, could have a shot. He does not have the best Open record, which is a surprise, but not many have forgotten how he finished fourth as an amateur on this very course back in 1998.

And here’s one for the romantics. Given the recent form of Harrington and Ian Poulter – first and second when The Open was last held at Royal Birkdale – how about a reprise of their battle down the stretch?

Both players have shown good form recently and were in the mix at the Scottish Open. Both fit the bill of experience and patience, so be prepared for the possibility of 2008 all over again.

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Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson among the top six contenders at The Open

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We take a look at some of the prime candidates for this year’s tournament.

DUSTIN JOHNSON

USA

World ranking: 1

Best results in 2017: Winner, WGC-Match Play, WGC-Mexico & Genesis Open

Last five tournaments: MC-MC-T13-T12-T2

Last five years at The Open: T9-T49-T12-T32-T9

Open appearances: 8

The big-hitting 33-year-old won his first major at the US Open last year but has performed poorly in recent majors, missing the cut at the 2016 PGA Championship and at last month’s US Open, either side of sitting out the Masters after suffering a freak back injury.

Has missed his last two cuts, but he remains the favourite. Comes in fresh into the tournament after recently becoming a father for the second time.

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA

Japan

World ranking: 2

Best results in 2017: Winner, Waste Management Phoenix Open

Last five tournaments: T14-T2-T45-T22-T11

Last five years at The Open: MC-T18-T39-T6-DNP

Open appearances: 4

Matsuyama has risen to number two in the world thanks to some outstanding results in the last year. The 25-year-old has won five titles in the last 12 months, most recently at the Phoenix Open in February, while he finished in a tie for second in last month’s US Open.

Second on the PGA Tour money list behind Johnson and now targeting becoming the first Asian to win the Open Championship.

JORDAN SPIETH

USA

World ranking: 3

Best results in 2017: Winner, AT&T Peble Beach Pro-Am & Travelers Championship

Last five tournaments: W-T35-T13-T2-MC

Last five years at The Open: T30-T4-T36-T44-DNP

Open appearances: 4

The Texan prodigy does not turn 24 until the end of the month and has already packed a remarkable amount of success into his young career. Victory at the Travelers Championship last month allowed him to match Tiger Woods in reaching double digits for tour wins by such a young age.

However, his two major titles to date came back to back in 2015 and he is eager to get his hands on a third one.

RORY MCILROY

Northern Ireland

World ranking: 4

Best results in 2017: Second, South African Open

Last five tournaments: MC-MC-T17-MC-T35

Last five years at The Open: T5-DNP-W-MC-60

Open appearances: 8

The last Open at Birkdale was won by a golfer from across the Irish Sea in Padraig Harrington, so McIlroy will be hoping that is an omen. His only Open win came three years ago just the other side of Liverpool at Hoylake, but his form coming into this year’s championship is not the best.

Hasn’t won in 2017 and he missed the cut at the US Open, and in his last two starts at the Irish and Scottish Opens.

The Masters - Round One

HENRIK STENSON

Sweden

World ranking: 8

Best results in 2017: Second, Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Last five tournaments: T26-T10-MC-T26-T3

Last five years at The Open: W-T40-T39-2-68

Open appearances: 12

Stenson waited until he was 40 before winning a major in thrilling fashion at Troon a year ago. Now his challenge is to become the first man since Padraig Harrington, at Birkdale nine years ago, to successfully defend the Claret Jug.

The Swede is yet another big name coming into the championship on the back of some patchy form though, having missed the cut at both majors so far in 2017.

SERGIO GARCIA

Spain

World ranking: 5

Best results in 2017: Winner, Masters & Dubai Desert Classic

Last five tournaments: T5-T6-T2-T21-MC

Last five years at The Open: W-T40-T39-2-68

Open appearances: 20

Garcia finally got the major monkey off his back at this year’s Masters, and is enjoying one of his strongest seasons, having earlier won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic as well.

The Spaniard is getting married next week, so what better way to climb up the altar in a Green Jacket with the Claret Jug tucked under his arms? He also has a great record in the Open Championship with 10 top-10s in 20 starts.

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