Sport360 - 7/12/2018 6:38:23 PM - GMT (+2 )
It may be the only major in 2018 where a career grand slam is not on the line, but the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie is set to fill the gap in sporting drama left by the World Cup.
Rory McIlroy went to the Masters in search of the win he needs to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four major titles, while Phil Mickelson did likewise at the US Open, only to dominate the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
When it comes to the US PGA Championship it will be the turn of Jordan Spieth to attempt to join golf’s most exclusive club, but first the American will be focused on becoming the first player in a decade to make a successful defence of the Open title.
Padraig Harrington was the last man to achieve the feat, following his play-off victory over Sergio Garcia – coincidentally at Carnoustie – in 2007 with a four-shot victory at Royal Birkdale 12 months later.
Spieth’s own victory at Birkdale came in remarkable circumstances, his three-shot 54-hole lead turning into a one-shot deficit after his fifth bogey of the day on the 13th, which involved a 20-minute ruling and playing his third shot from the practice ground.
But the 24-year-old somehow regained his composure to play the next four holes in five under par, card a remarkable closing 69 and finish 12 under par, three shots ahead of the unfortunate Matt Kuchar, who also shot 69 after a bogey on the last.
Whether Spieth is in the sort of form to retain his title remains to be seen however, the world number six finishing third in the Masters after a brilliant closing 64 but missing the cut in two of his last three starts, including the US Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Spieth should at least encounter similar conditions at Carnoustie, which promises to play hard and fast following the recent dry spell in Scotland. Throw in a healthy breeze and it could be “Car-nasty” part two, rekindling memories of the hardest Open in living memory in 1999.
On that occasion the combination of a severe course set-up and bad weather saw Paul Lawrie, Jean van de Velde and Craig Parry finish tied on six over par, with Lawrie going on to lift the Claret Jug in a play-off.
Van de Velde famously needed just to play the 72nd hole in six shots or less but contrived to make a triple-bogey seven which saw the Frenchman take off his shoes and socks to wade into the Barry Burn in a fruitless attempt to play out of the hazard in front of the green.
Lawrie is sadly absent due to injury but Tiger Woods will contest the Open for the first time since missing the cut at St Andrews in 2015 as he seeks to end a decade-long major championship drought, as well as five years without a win of any description.
Woods was seventh at Carnoustie in 1999 and 12th in 2007, while he also played the course in the 1995 Scottish Open as an amateur. Since returning to action following spinal fusion surgery last year, the 42-year-old has threatened to get back into the winner’s circle, bouncing back from a missed cut in the US Open with a tie for fourth in the Quicken Loans National.
And the omens may well be in his favour given that five of the past seven Open champions – Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Mickelson, Zach Johnson and Henrik Stenson – have been 39 or older, while the dry conditions could be reminiscent of Royal Liverpool in 2006.
Woods famously used his driver just once all week at Hoylake, led the field in fairways hit and won his third Open title a month after missing the cut in the US Open. The precedent exists and although it is somewhat dated, there is no doubting a Woods victory would cap one of the most remarkable comebacks of all time.