The Open: Claret Jug destined to land in American hands

US Open champion Dustin Johnson will fancy his chances at Troon. Pic: Getty
US Open champion Dustin Johnson will fancy his chances at Troon. Pic: Getty
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The record books point to one thing and one thing only this weekend – the Claret Jug ending up in American hands. The last six Opens staged at Royal Troon, after all, have all been won by a player representing the Stars and Stripes.

The great Arnold Palmer started the trend in 1962, since when his spikemarks on the Ayrshire course have been followed by Tom Weiskopf (1973), Tom Watson (1982), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Justin Leonard (1997) and, most recently, Todd Hamilton (2004).

The latter sprang a surprise as he claimed victory by beating Ernie Els in a play-off, so there is certainly hope for some of the outsiders on the betting lists heading into the 145th staging of this great event.

However, it is more likely that the Champion Golfer on this occasion will be one of the leading lights at the time when the sport is awash with exciting young talent.

Take Dustin Johnson, for example. It seemed only a matter of time until the big-hitter finally landed his first major after numerous squandered opportunities in recent years.

That he did so by refusing to be unnerved by the chaotic situation caused by bungling USGA officials in last month’s US Open at Oakmont made looks as though it has given Johnson enormous belief.

He’s since won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and now arrives here bidding to complete a hat-trick of big victories, as Rory McIlroy achieved, of course, in the height of the season two years ago.

McIlroy, who missed out on defending the title 12 months ago after suffering an ill-timed football injury, hasn’t really been firing on all cylinders this season.

He won the Irish Open at The K Club in May but has produced too many performances littered with silly and costly mistakes.

However, the 27-year-old is confident that he will back claiming the titles that matter soon – hopefully as early as Sunday in the ninth Open in total to be staged here.

“Winning majors isn’t easy,” insisted the Ulsterman. “It’s not just about turning up and playing and collecting a trophy. There is more than goes into it than that.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed if someone said at the PGA Championship at Valhalla ‘you’re not going to win one of the next five majors you play’, but it sometimes goes in cycles.

“It’s a very long career, so there’s plenty of time to rack up more major championships. If that means I have to go through a dry spell of two years, then so be it.

“But I feel like when I play my best golf, if I’m not the favourite, I’m one of the favourites. I’m pretty confident that if I do play my best golf, then there’s a good chance that I’ll end up coming out on top.”

If it’s another American who is in that position on Sunday night, then world No.2 Jordan Spieth certainly fancies his chances.

Bidding to complete the third leg of the Grand Slam at the time, the 22-year-old Texan came up just short behind compatriot Zach Johnson at St Andrews 12 months ago.

Better prepared on this occasion than he was then, Spieth is relishing his first trip to Troon, a situation that world No.1 Jason Day is also in and McIroy and Dustin Johnson, too.

“I’ll be brutally honest with you, it’s not the same feeling I had when I was getting ready for the Open Championship last year,” said Spieth.

“But I believe in my ability that if I’m in contention, that I can bring my best stuff and take home the trophy. I believe I can be close.

“I’m a little hesitant with tee to green, versus last year. It’s just a matter of not making many mistakes and getting into a rhythm.

Right now I feel like I’ve got to do a little more work throughout my swing to get it compact and ready for this style of golf.”

Spieth has been encouraged by the sight of so many compatriots on the list of previous winners here.

In fact, after Leonard and Hamilton he could make it a hat-trick for residents of Dallas.

“Yeah, Americans and actually Texans, a little bit of both there,” said Spieth of his time spent perusing the pictures of previous champions in the clubhouse, before breaking into a smile.

“So, man, I just feel that there’s so much added pressure off that. I don’t know how I’m even going to hit a shot this week .”

Six Scots are in the 156-man field – Edinburgh-based Richie Ramsay having bolstered that list after earning his spot through the Scottish Open on Sunday.

He joins two former Open champions – Sandy Lyle and Paul Lawrie – as well as Marc Warren, Russell Knox and Colin Montgomerie, who has been handed the honour of hitting the opening shot tomorrow on his home course.

“It’s a great honour to have and I treat it as such,” said Montgomerie. “And everything that happens after that first tee shot is a bonus.”

After a week that has been dominated so far by the Zika virus, that tee shot will be a big relief all round.