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Big Four the ones to beat at Royal Troon

All eyes will be on golf's so-called "Big Four" when the 145th British Open starts at Royal Troon on Scotland's west coast on Thursday, but of them Dustin Johnson is in the best shape.

The laid-back American comes into the championship fresh from finally winning a major at the US Open last month and he shares the status of favourite with world number one Jason Day of Australia.

"The game's in good form, and I've got a lot of confidence in it, so we'll see what happens," said Johnson, who gets his first round underway at 2pm local time (1300 GMT).

By then, the rest of the 'Big Four' -- Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy -- could all be finishing their opening rounds as they each tee off before 10am.

Day, who just failed to make the three man play-off at the end of last year's Open, is in a group with Masters champion Danny Willett and American star Rickie Fowler.

"This is pretty special," admitted Day, 28, after arriving in Troon, 35 miles south-west of Glasgow, at the start of the week.

"The greats have all held the trophy, the Claret Jug. To be able to hold that once in my career, it would be very pleasing and satisfying.

"I get excited to be able to play the Open Championship...because of how challenging the golf course is and the weather."

The 'Big Four' have won six of the last eight majors between them but the American Zach Johnson is the defending champion after his victory at St Andrews last year.

That came after the final round was held over until the Monday because of the wet and windy conditions on the other side of Scotland and the hope is for calmer weather this time around.

The forecast for Thursday is fine, with plenty of sunshine expected, but rain and wind are predicted to come in from the Firth of Clyde on Friday and Saturday.

"I don't think the forecast is actually that bad this week, and I don't think it's going to throw up a bad side of the draw, which is nice," said Ireland's Shane Lowry.

"You come to the Open and you really feel like it's up to the luck of the draw sometimes, and that can be disappointing for one half of the field. So thankfully that looks like it's not going to happen."

Zach Johnson goes out at 2:15pm with Australia's Adam Scott and Sweden's Henrik Stenson, the latter one of those attempting to break his major duck this week.

History favours the American contingent, though, with the last six winners at this course all hailing from the United States.

The last Open to be held at Troon was in 2004, when the completely unheralded Todd Hamilton came away as the champion golfer.

Now 50, Hamilton plays alongside fellow former Troon winners Justin Leonard and Mark Calcavecchia, teeing off not long after midday.

They, and the rest of the field, will look to make early headway as the course heads out to the south, skirting the coastline, before beginning to get complicated at the infamous par-three eighth hole, the Postage Stamp.

The toughest stretch comes at 10, 11 and 12, a trio of extremely challenging par fours, before the course turns back towards home.

And the first man to negotiate it all will be a local hero.

Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, now 53 and seen as one of the best players never to win a major, came through qualifying for this year's championship.

He will have the honour of hitting the first tee shot as he goes out at 6:35am local time with Luke Donald and Australia's Marc Leishman.





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