The most open Open Championship in years?
The 143rd staging of the world's oldest golf championship returns to Royal Liverpool this week for the first time since 2006 and a LOT has changed in that time.
Firstly, back in 2006, Tiger Woods was dominating the world game to such an extent that everyone was counting down to when (not if) he would surpass Jack Nicklaus's major haul of 18 titles.
In fact, in 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods went on to win the Open reasonably comfortably by two shots from Chris DiMarco in second place and South Africa's Ernie Els in third.
However, since then the former world number one has battled several personal and physical demons and arrives at Royal Liverpool a shadow of his former self. Pundits are, however, suggesting he'll be a real factor over the four days and that he will challenge for the claret jug once again. I'm not sure if they are being polite, hopeful or just woefully misinformed, but I really can't see that happening. A real victory for Woods will be that he completes the four days with no further damage to his back and body.
The course back in 2006 was as dry as the proverbial bone and it wasn't unheard of to see a gentle 7 iron run for over 200 metres. I'm not so sure we'll see that this year with the rain the course had last week and should see again for the first three days of this year's championship. And so, in spite of the organisers adding only 50 metres to the course (it'll play as a par 72 6721 metre layout), Royal Liverpool will be much softer and should play much longer than most of the players remember from the 2006 outing.
Interestingly, this will be the 12th time the Open is played at Royal Liverpool and its members will be amused (they may snigger naughtily to themselves) that the Championship will tee off from the actual 17th hole (called Royal) and end on the 16th (called Dun).
Let's look at the prospects and see who are the likely winners…This is a tough call because while there are several players in good form in the field, this must be the most open Open we've ever seen. However, if you force me off the fence then I'd pick four players for glory and the claret jug on Sunday afternoon.
Martin Kaymer (this year's US Open winner) is back and showing a hunger to win we haven't seen from him in a while. I like Rory McIlroy's form although he tends to misfire in one round out of four and that ends up costing him the win - he'll have to eliminate that bad round for this week. There are several Americans who look good and could do the job this week (cue defending champion Phil Mickelson, Masters champion Bubba Watson, perennial podium-sitter Matt Kuchar and the red hot putting Zach Johnson), but I like rookie Jordan Spieth most of all. He loves the big stage, he wants to win (not simply "play to gain experience") and he does not give up…ever.
And then my last pick, laugh if you want, is Sergio Garcia. Sometimes he is his own worst enemy, but get him to knuckle down for four days, don't overthink things too much and smile and relax a lot…and I may very well have the last laugh. Both Sergio and his game have matured. Its poetry in motion to watch his golf swing and his wide range of shots and imagination make him someone to watch, even if it is out of the corner of your eye.
There are eight South Africans playing and I've not seen anything to suggest that any of them will be contending come Sunday afternoon. I know South African players have won two of the last four Opens but only really Ernie Els showed recently at the Scottish Open that he may put in a surprise burst for his fifth Major.
This Championship will be gripping stuff and will produce a champion only on Sunday - I can't see a runaway, end-to-end win especially on Royal Liverpool in weather that will change every few hours. Don't miss a second of it.
Jeremy Harris is the EWN sports anchor at 94.5 Kfm and 567 Cape Talk. He is a keen golfer and plays off a 6 at his home club, Arabella. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremyharris55
Visit EWN's dedicated portal on the Open Championship.