A microscope on the Open

Marc Leishman
Marc Leishman tunes up in a practice round at Royal Birkdale.

The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale is big in so many ways.

It’s big for Adam Scott, who’s had enough near-misses, including a heartbreaker at Royal Lytham five years ago, to leave him with a certain yearning.

And it’s big for Jason Day, whose injuries and family troubles have sent him into a lull after reaching No.1 in the world last year. Day has virtually no form to speak of, and his previous experiences on links courses have not been especially positive, with just one top-five at an Open.

It’s big for Marc Leishman, beaten in a playoff two years ago and developing a reputation as a links golf specialist. Leishman, of course, is still chasing his first major championship to validate the improvement that he has made.

And it’s big for the likes of Matt Griffin and Andrew Dodt, playing a major for the first time. They are about to find out exactly how big.

There are 11 Australians in the field for the Open Championship starting tomorrow, headed by Day, Scott and Leishman, who is arguably in the best form of any of his compatriots.

No Australian has won since Greg Norman in 1993 at Royal St George’s, when the Shark produced the round of his lifetime on the final day. That is 23 episodes of this long-running story that have passed without Australian triumph. It’s been too long, but the good news is that Birkdale has been kind to Aussies. Peter Thomson won there in 1954 and again in 1965, as did Ian Baker-Finch on the day of his life in 1991.

So many have come close since 1993 – Scott at Lytham, where he bogeyed the last four holes, Leishman at St Andrews where Zac Johnson pipped him in a playoff  – but no one has been able to grab the claret jug.

Here are six players to watch this week:

1. Dustin Johnson (USA) At his best, the best in the world. The problem for DJ is that he has not been there for a little while after injuring himself at Augusta. Still has to be taken into strong consideration with his awesome ball-striking.

2. Sergio Garcia (Spain) The Spaniard removed a substantial monkey from his back by winning at Augusta. Never has to hear those questions about not winning a major again. Loves the Open Championship and has the supreme long game to contend in the week before his wedding.

3. Marc Leishman (Australia) Windy Warrnambool has served the big fella well. It always makes him a threat on the links of Scotland and England as the results show; he thrives in it. Adding to that, he’s had a win this season already and his self-belief seems to have grown. The best Australian hope.

4. Henrik Stenson (Sweden) Who could forget his closing 63 to win at Royal Troon last year? A completely awesome ball-striker especially with his nuclear three wood and his long irons, it all comes down to putts holed. But if he is on, so hard to beat.

5. Patrick Reed (USA) The supreme competitor, and the guy we all love to hate but need to respect. Reed’s game adapts well to seaside golf, as seen at Ryder Cup level, and unlike some of the other Americans, he welcomes the challenge. Just outside the top 10 last year, and he feels due to win a major.

6. Jordan Spieth (USA) His low ball flight is going to help him and he could easily have won in 2015, when he was pitching for a  third straight major. Has not quite been to those heady heights since. but it’s easy to forget he is not yet 24. The man is a freak, and if he is in contention, watch out.

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