Your soothsayer here has no idea who is going to win the British Open. That makes sense considering he has no clue whether his next beverage glass will contain water, milk, wine or rum. OK, not milk. As for the golf, the only certainty is this: A major golf trend – and maybe more than one – will continue when the Open returns to Royal St. George’s.
Trends are trendy in the game these days, perhaps moreso than ever, and none involves the colorful Halloween costumes of Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler. To the contrary, the ones I speak of have more momentum than Rory McIlroy’s resume.
The sweet-swinging McIlroy, as you might imagine, is among the trendsetters, not to mention Open favorites. As you might have read in the midst of incessant hyperbole, McIlroy made history at the U.S. Open by becoming the first player to win 19 majors in the same week. All right, that’s not true, though it seemed like it, but this is: The 22-year-old Ulsterman, remarkably, has held the lead in nine consecutive major-championship rounds. What’s more, he has led after seven of the past eight major rounds and in each of the past four Grand Slam gatherings.
It is uncertain whether he will stretch any of those Tiger Woods-like streaks next week in the south of England, though he has a decent chance. For certain, at his current rate he would become the first Marx brother inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Given his vast and improving skill, McIlroy also finds himself part of several so-called group trends gripping elite golf at the moment. Here they are, identified and addressed and projected:
• PGA European Tour members – Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel and McIlroy – have won the past five majors. Europeans also occupy the top four spots in the world ranking, and the top two, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, are majorless but primed to contend. This is not to say American golf is dead, but it is sick in the hospital, perhaps tended to by the same doctor who looks after Woods’ left leg.
This does not appear to be the USA’s century. Americans did win 11 of 15 British Opens from 1995 to 2009, but if you think that will continue at Sandwich, you are more optimistic than a 90-year-old woman buying two dozen cans of hairspray. After all, Woods has been out, Phil Mickelson and the British Open mesh like balloons and 50-mph wind, and Kevin Chappell and Robert Garrigus led the Yanks’ way at Congressional.
I like the Americans’ chances better at the Viking Classic the same week.
• Players in their 20s have won the past four majors. It’s as if the Fountain of Youth sprang forth when Woods hit that hydrant. Considering twentysomethings hold five of the top 11 world-ranking spots, the movement could continue at St. George’s.
• Woods hasn’t won in the past 12 majors. That’s his longest drought. That’s also shocking, considering he had won 51 percent of his PGA Tour starts over 31⁄2 years in 2006-09. Considering he hasn’t played more than nine holes since the Masters because of an injured leg and was rusty and undecided about entering the British a week out, an unlucky 13th appears almost a certainty.
• Eleven different players have won the past 11 majors. Westwood, Donald, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson are but six reasons the run could continue. Woods, too, would make it 12, but then he needs to show up and have either a time machine or an out-of-body experience.
• First-time major winners have won the past five majors and eight of the past nine. This, too, could go on. See the list just above and several others in this era of unprecedented depth that Jack Nicklaus didn’t have to deal with.
• Jason Day, the 23-year-old Australian, has finished second in the past two majors, meaning he is halfway to the Runner-up Slam. Remarkably, Day has finished in the top 10 in three of the four majors he has played. Counting The Players Championship, he has had top 10s in the past four big tournaments, as well as five of his past six starts.
Point is, he’s a loaded gun just drilling the edge of the trophy stand. It took historic feats to beat him at the Masters and Open. He tied for 60th last year in his only British Open. But then, as the late John Wooden used to say: Take talent over experience.
So then, which of these tendencies will hold form at St. George’s, a firm, fast pinball machine of a golf course light on rough? Another European Tour player? A 12th different winner in a row? Another first-timer? Westwood happens to fit all those categories and has five top-3 finishes in his past seven majors. But you figure it out from here. I have to consider what drink to order.