Jordan Spieth relishing Carnoustie test and other talking points ahead of the Open Championship

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Jordan Spieth will be bidding to defend his Open title on Thursday as the third major championship of the year gets underway at Carnoustie.

Here, we look at five talking points ahead of the tournament.

Can Spieth become the first back-to-back winner since 2008?

Padraig Harrington was the last player to successfully defend his Open title, with a four-shot victory at Royal Birkdale back in 2008.

But Spieth’s form has been something of a mixed bag, with a third place finish at the Masters, but also missing four cuts in 16 starts this season, including at the US Open when he fired a miserable nine-over par 149.

While a repeat of last year’s heroics in Southport might seem too much to ask, the Texan certainly has the class to mount a challenge for his fourth major.

Can US dominance of the majors be broken?

Brooks Koepka’s victory in the US Open means American players currently hold all four major titles, with Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas holding the Masters, the Open and the PGA Championship trophies respectively.

American players’ strong hold on the Open Championship is also tight, winning three out of the last five championships.

Based on current form, it looks difficult to see America golf’s dominance toppled in Scotland this weekend and at majors any time soon.

Will there be an English player in with a shout of winning?

While Darren Clarke, Stenson and McIlroy have all lifted the Open title in recent years, only Matthew Southgate and McIlroy finished inside the top-10 in 2017.

The struggle of English players continuing at Carnoustie look unlikely though, with Rose, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood all showing consistent form this year.

Rose, in particular, appears to be the front runner to challenge the Americans at the top of the leaderboard, with some glittering rounds over the past seven months.

The Englishman has recorded three top-five and four top-10 finishes in 12 starts, including a win at Fort Worth Invitational.

While Fleetwood finished second at the US Open, a result that is sure to give him confidence around the sweeping greens at Carnoustie.

What condition is the course in?

After the USGA came in for serious criticism over their approach in the recent US Open at Shinnecock Hills, the R&A will be determined to avoid similar mistakes at Carnoustie.

Bad weather and a severe course set-up made the 1999 Open one of the most challenging in history, with Peter Lawrie winning in a famous play-off.

The 156-strong field finished the week with 3,746 over par – something the organisers will not want a repeat of in the east coast of Scotland this week.

With the lack of rainfall in the UK over the past six weeks, the course looks baked but the greens are pure, making for fast and firm conditions.

What next for Tiger Woods?

The American has not played in the Open Championship since missing the cut in 2015 – with the last of his three Open titles coming 12 years ago at Royal Liverpool.

Since returning to action after undergoing back surgery last April, Woods has recorded three top-five and three top-15 finishes, including a tie for fourth at Quicken Loans National earlier this month.

Winning a fourth title would be a fairytale way to seal one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history and recent form suggests the 42-year-old could well be in contention for a first major since 2008.

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Justin Thomas ready to go from friends to foes with Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler at The Open

Phil Casey 17:51 17/07/2018
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Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler will all vie for The Open title.

Justin Thomas insists friendships will be put firmly to one side if the 147th Open Championship comes down to a battle with his close friends Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.

Spieth is the defending champion at Carnoustie and Thomas the reigning US PGA champion, while Fowler is seeking a first major title after several near misses, including a runners-up finish to Patrick Reed in April’s Masters.

The trio are such good friends that they go on holiday together and Fowler, who finished fifth, was among the first to congratulate Thomas when he lifted the Wanamaker Trophy at Quail Hollow last August.

“It is a very unique group of us, I guess you could say,” Thomas said. “Obviously we want to beat each other’s brains in. I never want to lose to any of my friends, especially my best friends.

“As weird as it is, sometimes it’s harder losing to your closest friends than it is someone you don’t even know, whether it’s bragging rights or whatever it is, but it is a weird feeling.

“Then again, like last year when I didn’t play well [in the Open] and missed the cut, I was pulling for Jordan to win. You want to see one of your friends win if you can’t.”

Thomas finished 53rd on his Open debut in 2016 and missed the cut at Royal Birkdale last year, but believes that is not a fair reflection of his abilities.

“Two years ago I was on the bad side of the draw but then last year I just had two terrible holes that caused me to miss the cut,” the 25-year-old world number two added.

“I feel like I’m a good links player although I don’t have the results to show it. I played well at Chambers Bay in the US Amateur which is a links-style course and I truly enjoy the creativity required.

“The Open is a very special event I hope to get at least once or twice in my career. It would mean a lot. I can’t necessarily put it into words, it’s one of those things you can’t describe unless it happens.

“I’ve always felt this would be one of my favourite wins as a player because it takes such a wide variety of shots and such a complete game to win here.”

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Justin Rose optimistic about first English win since 1992 at The Open Championship

Sport360 staff 17:22 17/07/2018
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Justin Rose would love nothing more than to become the first Englishman in 26 years to win the Open but he believes a number of home hopefuls could challenge America’s recent dominance of majors.

Starting with Brooks Koepka’s 2017 US Open victory the last five of golf’s premier events have been won by 20-somethings from the United States

In contrast, an Englishman has not lifted the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo in 1992, although there have been European triumphs courtesy of Ireland twice (Padraig Harrington both times), Northern Ireland twice (Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy) and Sweden (Henrik Stenson) in the last 11 years.

“I don’t know what I’d put it down to other than the American boys in the world rankings and on the golf course are performing really well,” said Rose ahead of the 147th Championship at Carnoustie.

“The top end of American golf right now is incredibly strong. I think Tommy (Fleetwood, who finished second at last month’s US Open) showed how close the Europeans are to challenging that dominance.

“So it’s not like we’re a mile behind. It’s just they’re on a great run right now, and there’s no reason why a European player shouldn’t come through this week.

“Obviously, Tommy’s got a brilliant chance. Paul Casey’s got a great chance. He’s been knocking on the door many times now too. Paul is dangerous on links golf courses.

“Darren Clarke won one out of the blue years ago. Maybe it’s sort of a Westy (Lee Westwood) time as well.

Rory clearly is probably even more dangerous at the minute because he’s been a little quiet.

“I find that Rory is always quiet for a while and then he’ll kind of kick back into gear.”

Rose made his major breakthrough at the 2013 US Open but performances at his home major has been much less impressive.

The 37-year-old has had just one top-10 finish – at St Andrews three years ago – in 15 attempts since finishing fourth as an amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998.

But that does not deter him and when asked whether he could win this week the 2013 US Open champion gave a confident “Yes”.

“I don’t mind expectation. I feel like you’ve got to be a big boy, and you’ve got to be able to handle that,” added the Englishman, who will celebrate 20 years as a professional on Friday.

“If you want to play at the top level, that’s what you’ve got to live with. I’ve got no problem with that.

“Yeah, I want to win the Open, no doubt about it. Obviously, I’m kind of comfortable with how bad my record’s been here.

“It’s nothing new to me and I don’t feel like there’s a reason for it either. I feel like I’ve created some better opportunities in the Open than my record suggests.

“I think definitely the consistency that I’m playing at now is by far the best I’ve ever had in my career.

“I couldn’t think of a better time to turn it around and to sort of bring everything full circle, if you like.

“I’d take it any year but 20 years has a nice ring to it, if I want to be superstitious.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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