|The Open Championship|
|Venue: Royal Troon Date: 14-17 July|
|Coverage: Live text commentary on BBC Sport website from 06:30 BST. BBC Radio 5 live 10:00-19:00, BBC Two highlights 20:00-22:00.|
Tournament favourite Dustin Johnson says he feels like the best player in the world going into the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon.
World number one Jason Day, two-time major winner Jordan Spieth and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy are also expected to contend in Scotland.
“If I play my best stuff, I believe I am going to win,” said Johnson, 32.
“I like my chances of winning. Obviously I’m playing pretty well right now. I always feel like I’m the best player in the world and I always expect to contend.”
The oldest championship in professional golf gets under way at 06:35 BST on Thursday.
A win on the links course at Troon would not only see Johnson lift one of the most iconic trophies in sport – the Claret Jug, first presented in 1873 – but capture only his second major following last month’s victory.
His US Open win ended a long wait for a major – following several near-misses – and Johnson continued: “It’s definitely different not trying to win that first major. It’s a good feeling, for sure.
“If I’m in contention on Sunday, just knowing I can get it done is a big confidence booster coming down the stretch.”
Johnson’s major near-misses included the 2010, 2011 and 2015 Opens but no-one has ever doubted he has the game to triumph in links conditions.
Victory at Troon would see Johnson replace Day at the top of the world rankings, as long as his Australian rival finishes outside the top 10.
Americans have won the last six Open Championships at Troon, including the unheralded Todd Hamilton the last time the event was staged there in 2004.
And Johnson’s prodigious length off the tee could be key, with the first three holes, all of which are under 400 yards, driveable with the wind and the par-five fourth and sixth reachable in two.
Day, 28, says it was last year’s heartbreak at St Andrews that gave him the strength to win the USPGA at Whistling Straits the following month and kick-started his surge to the top of the world rankings.
“Coming so close last year was definitely a motivational factor,” said Day, who missed a three-way play-off by one shot, allowing Zach Johnson to triumph.
Day added that his collapse down the stretch at Firestone a fortnight ago, when he dropped three shots in the last four holes to allow Dustin Johnson to win the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, had not left any lasting scars.
Rory licked by the Postage Stamp
Former world number one and four-time major winner McIlroy has endured an inconsistent season, missing the cut at the US Open and winning only once.
McIlroy is playing Troon for the first time but is confident his preparations have been comprehensive enough to make him a genuine contender.
“The golf course is pretty self-explanatory, you just have to be comfortable with the clubs you’re hitting off the tees,” said the world number four and 2014 Open champion, who missed last year’s tournament at St Andrews because of injury.
In his practice round on Tuesday, McIlroy came a cropper at the 123-yard eighth hole, affectionately nicknamed the Postage Stamp, the 27-year-old requiring six shots to escape from the front-right bunker.
The Postage Stamp is the shortest hole on the Open rota but also one of the most terrifying, especially when the wind is blowing, as McIlroy can attest to.
“If you make four threes there this week, you’re probably going to gain a bit of ground on the field,” said McIlroy, who won the Irish Open in May and finished third at the French Open, his most recent event.
World number three Spieth also missed last year’s Open play-off by one stroke, scuppering his chances of completing a season Grand Slam.
The 22-year-old, winner of the Masters and US Open in 2015, also suffered a back-nine meltdown at this year’s Masters, handing the Green Jacket to England’s Danny Willett, but believes Troon will play to his strengths.
“I’ve been here since Saturday and seen a couple of different wind conditions,” said Spieth.
“I love this style of golf. I look forward to dealing with the tough conditions and trying to get into contention this week.”
The home challenge
The last Scotsman to win the Open was Paul Lawrie in 1999, while no Englishman has won the Claret Jug since Faldo in 1992. Furthermore, the only British player to win an Open at Troon was Arthur Havers in 1923.
Aside from McIlroy, the highest ranked player from the United Kingdom is Willett, the world number nine. Fellow Englishman and world number 22 Chris Wood won the BMW PGA Championship in difficult conditions in May and has been in impressive form for the last few months.
Former US Open champion Justin Rose has had his fair share of struggles at the Open since finishing fourth as an amateur in 1998. He finished tied for sixth at a rain-sodden St Andrews but he has been hampered by a back injury this season. Rose missed the cut at the US Open and was well off the pace at Firestone.
Former world number one Lee Westwood has cut down his schedule and been in good form of late, while home favourite Colin Montgomerie, an honorary member of Royal Troon, will hit the first tee shot on Thursday.
Montgomerie might be 53, but so was Greg Norman when he finished third in 2008, while Tom Watson was 59 when he almost won in 2009. In addition, three of the last five champions were over 40, while Zach Johnson was 39.
The global challenge
Zach Johnson beat Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a play-off to win last year’s Open but has not had a win this season. However, he comes to Troon with top-10 finishes at the US Open and Bridgestone Invitational behind him.
Rickie Fowler missed the cut at the Masters and US Open and has not won all season but has had a host of top-10 finishes. Fowler often thrives in tricky conditions, as shown by a fine third-round 68 at Royal St George’s in 2011.
Australia’s Adam Scott threw away the chance to become an Open champion in 2012, when he made four bogeys at the last four holes to hand the title to Ernie Els, and again at St Andrews last year. Scott, Masters champion in 2013, has won twice this year and there are few better ball-strikers in world golf.
Early starters on Thursday should expect a bit of cloud but that is expected to give way to sunny conditions, in stark contrast to last year’s horrendous weather at St Andrews, where play finished on a Monday for the first time since 1988.
Rain is expected on Friday morning but the weekend forecast is for a mixture of bright spells and showers, with the strongest winds blowing in on Saturday.
Selected tee times (all times BST)
06:35 Marc Leishman (Aus), Colin Montgomerie (Sco), Luke Donald
08:25 Padraig Harrington(Ire), Louis Oosthuizen (SA), Jamie Donaldson (Wal)
09:03 Justin Rose (Eng), Jordan Spieth (US), Shane Lowry (Ire)
09:25 Danny Willett (Eng), Rickie Fowler (US), Jason Day (Aus)
09:36 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Rory McIlroy (NI), Bubba Watson (US)
12:53 Paul Casey (Eng), Charl Schwartzel (SA), Kevin Na (US)
13:15 Graeme McDowell (NI), Matt Kuchar (US), Andrew Johnson (US)
13:26 Phil Mickelson (US), Lee Westwood (Eng), Ernie Els (SA)
14:04 Martin Kaymer (Ger), Dustin Johnson (US), Russell Knox (Sco)
14:15 Zach Johnson (US), Adam Scott (Aus), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
14:26 Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn), Chris Wood (Eng), Mark O’Meara (US)
14:48 Anirban Lahiri (Ind), Sergio García (Spa), Keegan Bradley (US)
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