Jordan Spieth would understand why the bookmakers are finding it hard to name an outright favourite for this week’s 146th Open Championship.
The Texan is likely to go into tomorrow’s opening round at Royal Birkdale at the top of the betting, albeit at relatively long odds of 14/1 following his success at the Travelers Championship last month, with world number one Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia not far behind him in the market.
Yet it is a far cry from the days when the name Tiger Woods would appear unfailingly as the short-priced favourite to sweep all before him. However, Spieth believes we are unlikely to see a repeat of those times any time soon in a professional sport where the competition is regularly wide-open from week to week, not least the majors.
Not even the concept of “a big four” in golf, which the game appeared to be orbiting around until only recently, has been sustained in the last couple of seasons.
Spieth, who won the 2015 Masters and US Open back to back during a stellar campaign, was part of that supposed quartet alongside Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, each taking their turn at the top of the official world rankings during individual periods of dominance.
There has been a sea change, however, with each of the last seven majors having been won by first-time champions, Brooks Koepka’s US Open victory at Erin Hills last month coming two days after the top three in the rankings, Johnson, McIlroy and Day all missed the cut, the first time that had happened since the OGWR began in 1986.
The playing field is well and truly level and though he remains a frontrunner 23-year-old Spieth says it is unrealistic for him or anyone else to emerge as a dominant force in the manner Tiger did in the previous decade.
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up,” Spieth said. “What Tiger’s done, I just, having experienced a year like he continued to do for years, it just takes a lot out of you. It’s very tough to do. And you have to have a lot of things go right at the right times to be that successful.
“I doubt you’ll see a dominance like that maybe ever again in the game. I just think guys are learning, guys are getting stronger. Athletes are going to golf. Guys are winning younger, playing more fearlessly, even in major championships. I just think that it’s so difficult now.
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up for a domination like that whatsoever. It’s going to be a very exciting time going forward for guys that are going to be playing and battling against each other. You’ll see a group of 10 to 12 guys over the next 15, 20 years, that are going to have a lot of different competitions which come down the stretch against each other. And it’s different than one person being the guy to beat. But I think it’s exciting for fans and for us as players. You just never know. And if you play well, you’re going to have a chance with these other guys who are equally as capable.”
Spieth, currently world number three, also believes it was wrong to have even packaged himself, Day, Johnson and McIlroy as ‘a big four’, the elite of the game being so competitive and heavy with talent.
Johnson remains number one but has not made a cut in a major since last year’s win.
Hideki Matsuyama has climbed to number two with McIlroy clinging onto fourth spot in the rankings as he tries to muddle through a slump that has seen him miss the cut in three of his last four starts.
Day, meanwhile, has slipped to sixth behind Sergio Garcia with newly-crowned Irish Open champion Jon Rahm the new kid on the block, rising fast to No.7.
“I think you look at a guy like Jon Rahm, how does he deserve not to be in a conversation like that?” Spieth wondered during his Open press conference. “What he just did at the Irish Open and what he has been able to do this year, he did it two weeks ago at links golf. He destroyed the field. I don’t think he would have been someone that you would put there if you were about to name four guys... It’s very exciting when you’ve got to beat that many great players with that much confidence.”
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