Without actually winning a tournament this year, Danny Willett has made the greatest strides of his career.
For the 26-year-old has achieved what all European Tour golfers are striving for – consistency.
His record this season, without pulling up any trees or threatening the Ryder Cup standings, reflects the form of a man confident in his game, regardless of the odd flicker of poor health.
The Sheffield professional has played 16 tournaments, made the cut 14 times and on the two occasions that he did not make the weekend, problems with his neck and back forced him to withdraw before the first round had elapsed.
His recent form has been splendid and sees him tee off at Royal Liverpool today among the strong outside bets for a good finish at the 145th Open Championship.
He finished third at the Irish Open, having led the tournament at one stage, eighth the following week at the BMW International Open in Cologne – site of his only Tour win to date two years ago – and 11th at the Scottish Open on Sunday.
There have been two other top-10 finishes as well since he began his season in South Africa at the start of December.
Indeed, the only thing missing is a victory.
So why not here at Hoylake?
Obscurer people have won the game’s most coveted prize. Think Ben Curtis in 2003, Todd Hamilton the following year and Bill Rogers as long ago as 1981.
Willett certainly has the confidence and the game, even if the neck and back problems continue to threaten him.
“A lot of it for me is managing the back and feeling like I’m fit,” said the 26-year-old, who is making his sixth appearance in a major this week.
“I’ve been playing some good golf. It didn’t quite happen for me on the Sunday in Ireland recently.
“I’ve not been making mistakes, I’ve been hitting it close and getting the chances.
“All year, I’ve been playing well, I’ve just had to pull out of a couple with the back.
“I’ve been working hard on the greens and it’s finally starting to pay off. You can turn average rounds into great rounds quite quickly when you’re holing putts.”
Willett also seems to be getting the hang of major championship golf.
He tees off in an Open for the third time in the last four years, having already made his US Open debut this summer.
For his first three majors – two US PGA’s and the Open at Royal St George’s in 2011 – he missed the cut.
But at Muirfield last year, not only did he make the weekend, but he then built on that platform to surge into a tie for 15th place.
Then, after receiving an invite for the US Open, he comfortably made the cut and finished 45th, though that owed much to a 78 on the Saturday, when for the rest of the week he was around par and was at one stage second on the leaderboard during the second round.
Willett’s impressive form has seen him climb up to 93rd in the world, which should guarantee a place in the field for next month’s US PGA Championship at Valhalla, as the PGA of America invite the world’s top 100 automatically.
All of which are positive steps for the 2007 Yorkshire Amateur champion, who is establishing himself in the next bracket of burgeoning European talent.
Three-time champion Tiger Woods yesterday put the finishing touches to his game in a short final practice session in preparation for the 143rd Open Championship which afforded him time for his army of fans at Royal Liverpool.
The former world No 1 played just the first and second holes, having been at Hoylake since Saturday and completed full rounds on Sunday and Tuesday, before retiring to do some chipping and putting behind the second green.
Once that was complete the American happily signed autographs for some of the group which had gathered to watch as he walked the short distance back to the clubhouse.
On reaching the putting green in front of the clubhouse he made the turn towards the players’ entrance but did not exchange greetings with Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson who was passing in the opposite direction towards the course.
Watson had said earlier in the week he planned to speak with Woods about the state of his game and September’s biennial match with Europe at Gleneagles in Scotland – for which the 14-time major winner will most likely require a wildcard pick to qualify having missed more than two months of the season after back surgery.
Earlier Woods stopped for a picture with Bradley Neil, who booked his place in the tournament by winning the 2014 Amateur Championship.
“My week has definitely been made! Meeting TIGER WOODS!!!! Possibly getting a game at Augusta as well! #gobsmacked,” the 18-year-old Scot wrote on Twitter alongside his photo with the winner of 14 majors.
Former champion David Duval does not feel disrespected being sent out in the first group for today’s start and insists he is just grateful to have a tee time at all.
The American, who won the Claret Jug in 2001 on another north-west course at Lytham St Annes, goes out with David Howell and Robert Karlsson at 6.25am. Some may have perceived that as not treating a former winner with the respect he deserves, but the 42-year-old does not see it that way.
“I don’t take it as being disrespectful at all,” he said. “I have always said I don’t care when I tee off, just give me a tee time.
“I am fortunate to have been a past champion and as long as I’m playing golf I’ll be coming.”
American Chris Kirk found his range in practice, holing his second shot at the 10th – a 532-yard par five – for an albatross.
John Daly, winner in 1995, never fails to catch the eye. SpongeBob SquarePants trousers were his choice of attire for yesterday’s practice.