LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN was ranked 54th in the world when he emerged from relative obscurity to win the Open at St Andrews five years ago.
His manager, Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler, may have sensed something special in the South African, and his Yorkshire coach, Pete Cowen, may have seen in the diminutive Oosthuizen the game to win a major, but to the general public, the 27-year-old’s victory was a bolt from the blue.
Oosthuizen has since gone on to prove that his win at the ‘Home of Golf’ was no flash in the pan; forcing Bubba Watson to produce a wonder shot from the trees to win the 2012 Masters in a play-off before narrowly failing to extend last month’s US Open at Chambers Bay into a fifth day, by just a single stroke.
But it was a breakthrough nonetheless and one that offers hope to all 156 players pitching up at golf’s most storied venue that it could be they who see their name being etched onto the Claret Jug come Sunday evening.
For, in the absence of defending champion and world No 1 Rory McIlroy through injury, and in light of Tiger Woods’s continued struggles and brave attempt to re-establish what he once was, this has to be one of the more open Opens in recent times.
Only Jordan Spieth stands above the pack as a clear favourite.
Already with two major titles this year, golf’s new phenomenon looks unstoppable, yet the sheer volume of players up against him, the jetlag he could be feeling, having only arrived in Scotland on Monday, and the pressure surrounding the ‘Jordanslam’ must at some stage start to take its toll.
Click on the video link above to see golf writer Nick Westby preview The Open
He arrived at St Andrews on a private flight from Illinois having won the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour on Sunday, just as he did for his Open debut two years ago at Muirfield.
It is hard to believe that Spieth, the talk of golf, is the same young man who played alongside a similary awe-struck Matt Fitzpatrick of Sheffield for the first two rounds in 2013.
Fitzpatrick won the silver medal that week for leading amateur and is now making steady progress in the professional game.
Young pro Spieth made the cut and finished alongside Fitzpatrick on 10 over par, but his name barely registered.
How different it will be this week. Allied with the curiosity surrounding the state of Woods’s game, Spieth’s every move will be the most closely monitored.
One further intangible that could negate Spieth and blow the field further open, is the weather.
Five years ago, nobody made better use of the capricious conditions than Oosthuizen, who was in the half of the draw that benefitted from relative calm, while those on the opposite side experienced everything the British elements could throw at them.
With wind and rain forecast for this morning and then extreme winds in the afternoon, the luck of the draw could again be a factor.
Spieth is out in the morning and may get lucky, while one of those teeing off in the afternoon hoping the projections are not too severe is Danny Willett, Yorkshire’s sole representative in the 144th Open field.
This is Willett’s 10th stab at a major championship and his fourth contesting of his ‘home’ event.
Only once has he made the cut – he was 15th at Muirfield two years ago – but expects better of himself this time.
Missing the weekend at Hoylake last year was, in his words, ‘a bit of an odd one’ given the consistent run of form he displayed throughout 2014, which culminated in the victory at the Nedbank Challenge that elevated him towards the top 50 in the world and into the field at April’s Masters.
Now more of a globe-trotting golfer, Willett has been able to pick and choose his events this year, and has even grown adept at making an impact at the big events, notably a semi-final run at the World Matchplay in San Francisco.
He is currently 39th in the world rankings with Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood the four Englishmen above him, yet he is very much under-the-radar this week.
Nevertheless, such is the growing belief in his standing in the game, he tees off today expecting to compete.
“Every week I pitch up, the aim is to get somewhere near and try and compete,” said Willett, who at 27 is the same age as Oosthuizen when he won at St Andrews.
“The course is in good nick, it’s surprisingly soft, most people would say the same but a couple of days with a stiff wind and all of a sudden that can change.
“It looks and seems softer than what we’re expecting.
“But this is what you play for. You look at all the courses round the world and playing an Open at St Andrews is right up there.
“Luckily, I’ve got that chance and it would be nice to put on a bit of a show.”
At 15 places higher than Oosthuizen was five years ago, do not be too surprised if Willett shocks the world this week.