By Steve Silverman
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In a sports world that is often as much about the hype as it is about the competition itself, the British Open is perhaps the most underpublicized sports event of the year.
NBC and the Golf Channel will give “The Open Championship” wall-to-wall coverage this weekend, but the hungry golf fan will have to get up in the wee hours of the morning to see many of the best golfers in the world go at it.
Many in the golf industry spend much of their time comparing the worth of the majors, and the British Open often comes in fourth of the four majors – when it comes to American golf fans.
However, I submit it is in no worse than second place behind the U.S. Open. It is far more important historically than the Masters, which is played on perhaps the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing golf course that has ever been built.
There’s a difference between beauty and historical significance, and that’s what the British Open has going for it.
The British Open, even more so than any of the majors, draws the best golfers from all over the globe. Those on the European and Asian tours are far more likely to play in the British Open than the U.S. Open, Masters or PGA Championship. As a result, this can be the most competitive event of the year.
As the event at Royal Troon in Scotland gets underway, all eyes will be on Dustin Johnson, fresh off his victory in the U.S. Open last month, and he is certainly at the top of his game. While all others around him found trouble in the final round at Oakmont, Johnson kept his head even though he was tagged with an unfortunate one-stroke penalty when his ball moved a fraction of an inch before putting the ball on the fifth hole.
The persnickety golf rules and those that enforce them could have taken a well-deserved tournament win away from Johnson, but he remained calm and in control and won his championship the old-fashioned way – he earned it.
Brimming with confidence, Johnson came back with a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in his next start.
When he is at his best, Johnson is as strong tee-to-green as any player in the field.
It will not be easy for him, as Jason Day is the No. 1 player in the world, and he has one advantage over Johnson: He can hone in on the pin location like nobody else on the tour. He has a laser-like focus with his short irons, and he is often left with 8 to 12 foot putts when his competition has 12- to 20-footers. That’s why Day has risen as high as he has in the golf world.
Jordan Spieth has become a golf darling, but he has shown an uglier side to his game in recent months. After the tremor of blowing what would have been a second consecutive Masters championship, Spieth has been known for his fits of pique after poor shots. He also will blame his caddy from time to time, and that’s no way for a champion to behave.
But there is no denying Spieth’s all-around ability and his special talent with the putter. If Spieth gets hot with his flat stick in the final two rounds, he can erase any deficit and build a lead.
There’s trouble in the Rory McIlroy camp. The heir apparent to Tiger Woods just a couple of years ago, McIlroy has struggled with his accuracy and consistency. When McIlroy is on his game, he hits the ball as far as Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson, but he simply does not keep his ball in the fairway the way a great golfer is supposed to.
It is not likely to get better at Royal Troon for the inconsistent McIlroy.
Adam Scott has been having a spectacular year on the PGA Tour, and the Australian is known for his ability to keep his wits about him and his game intact when the conditions turn ugly, as they often do across the pond.
The winds are expected to be blowing harshly in Scotland over the next four days, and Scott has the swing and the mindset to conquer those conditions.
Louis Oosthuizen is another player who can be quite competitive. If Scott has perhaps the sweetest swing in the game, Oosthuizen is a very close second. He has the mental capacity to stay in the moment if he has a bad hole or two without losing his concentration. He is also capable of getting red-hot with his putter.
This could be the tournament of the year. Look for Day to hold off Johnson and Oosthuizen to cement his position as the No. 1 golfer in the world.
It will be worth the early wake-up call.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy