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Seven players who can buck the trend of maiden major victors at the Open Championship

Two Irishmen among them, can the old guard return to the fore?

By Liam Kelly

First time winners in the last seven Major championships turned the form book upside down, but is it time for the old guard to assert their claims to glory? Rory McIlroy certainly hopes so. Ditto such luminaries as Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and a host of other Major champions of the relatively recent past who are eager to get their hands on the Claret Jug.

In saying that, full respect must be accorded to the magnificent seven who made their Major breakthroughs dating back to Jason Day at the US PGA Championship in 2015.

Day was followed by Danny Willett (Masters 2016), Dustin Johnson (US Open 2016), Henrik Stenson (Open 2016), Jimmy Walker (US PGA 2016), Sergio Garcia (Masters 2017) and Brooks Koepka (US Open 2016).

Some of them had 'Major potential' stamped all over them, others not so much, but the fact remains that these seven golfers have cemented their place in the history of the sport.

Royal Birkdale, however, could be just the place for the men who have done it all before to rise to the top again.

McIlroy, four times a Major champion, including one Claret Jug, would love a chance to contend on the back nine on Sunday, but appreciates the depth of talent abounding on the PGA and European Tours.

"I hope it's me at the end of the week that's standing on the 18th green and getting the Claret Jug. But sort of where golf is at the moment, no one is really standing out and sort of taking it by the scruff of the neck," the Ulsterman said.

"It's so hard these days to separate yourself, and I've said that a lot the last sort of couple of years, because of the technology in the golf clubs and golf equipment.

"But also the technology with coaching, with TrackMan, with the knowledge out there, the coaches, the stats guys, you know way more about your golf game than you did 20 or 30 years ago, and everyone has access to that now.

"And that's why the margins are so fine, and that's why you're finding all these guys so closely grouped together, because it's so hard to find that little one per cent or two per cent that separates you from the rest of the pack," he said.

Here is my list of seven proven major winners who can buck the trend of virgin champions.

1: RORY McILROY

(4 Majors)

He needs to find the spark to ignite the combustible mix of verve and charismatic golf that he displays at his best, but if he is close to the lead come Sunday, McIlroy will give himself a fighting chance of a second Open.

2: JORDAN SPIETH

(2 Majors)

Still a young man - he will be 24 on July 27 - but Spieth has an old head on his shoulders. He has won twice on the PGA Tour, the most recent the Travelers Championship last month.

3: JUSTIN ROSE

(1 Major)

The Olympic champion showed enough with a tied-four finish in the Irish Open at Portstewart to suggest he can mount a serious challenge. Overdue a second Major. Should be comfortable at Birkdale where he caused such a stir as an amateur in 1998.

4: PHIL MICKELSON

(5 Majors)

Runner-up last year in a thriller to Henrik Stenson. Caused a stir by ending 25 years with caddie Jim "Bones" McKay recently, so his performance will come under extra scrutiny. Arguably this is the last chance saloon for Phil who could thrive on having a point to prove.

5: ZACH JOHNSON

(2 Majors)

Finished tied-fifth at the John Deere Classic last Sunday. Course management and straight hitting are his strengths and he could prosper on this course which curtails the 'bombers.' His most recent Major was two years ago at St Andrews when he won in a play-off, defeating Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman.

6: PADRAIG HARRINGTON

(3 Majors)

It may be a big ask, even for a man as positive as Harrington, but he should be encouraged by his recovery from a horrible 79 at the Scottish Open last Saturday to finish tied-fourth. He's comfortable with links golf, and loves Birkdale. The Dubliner was awarded honorary membership of the club on Tuesday night.

7: LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN

(1 Major)

Knows his way around Open courses, and got himself into the final group - alongside Dubliner Paul Dunne - at St Andrews in 2015, losing in that play-off to Zach Johnson. A tied-second finish at The Players Championship indicates the South African can still contend in top tournaments, following on from his memorable triumph at St Andrews back in 2010.

Belfast Telegraph

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