- Associated Press - Saturday, July 14, 2012

Golf rarely has been this mysterious when it comes to the majors.

Tiger Woods used to be counted on to win at least one major a year and contend in the others. And while he is back to being the betting favorite, the British Open will be the 17th major since Woods won his last one. Rory McIlroy, the heir apparent, has taken such a peculiar turn in the last two months that it was cause for minor celebration, if not major relief, when he simply made the cut in the Irish Open.

Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the two players who have been atop the world ranking the most over the last two years, have never won a major.

So when the British Open begins July 19 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes on the Lancashire coast of England, there really is only one logical question.

Who’s next?

These days, the answer is pure guesswork.

Fifteen players from five continents have won the last 15 majors, a stretch of parity not seen since golf was searching for a dominant player in the mid-1980s. Only three of those winners were among the top 10 in the world ranking. Three of them were not in the top 50, and three others were not even in the top 100.

“It just shows how deep the level of competition is right now,” Adam Scott said.

A streak of 18 different winners, two generations ago, started with Tom Watson capturing his fifth British Open in 1983 and ended with Larry Nelson winning his third major at the 1987 PGA Championship. Major champions during the mid-1980s included the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Fuzzy Zoeller, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd and Jack Nicklaus.

What sets apart this recent stretch is that Webb Simpson at the U.S. Open last month became the ninth straight player to win his first major.

“Pretty amazing,” Hunter Mahan said. “I remember first coming out on tour, and it was almost the same five guys every Sunday at every major. It really was. This is a whole new staff of players. It’s the evolution of the game.”

Woods used to be dominant in the majors, even during the short-lived era of the “Big Four” that included Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. It reached such a point of predictability that Colin Montgomerie once suggested there was only one major for everyone else after Woods & Co. collected theirs.

“Tiger was winning all those things, and he was keeping Phil from winning more,” Mahan said. “Now, it’s like there are four majors _ four majors that are wide open. Augusta is the only place where you can count on four or five guys being there. That place is predictable. Everywhere else, it’s not predictable.”

The British Open returns to Royal Lytham & St. Annes for the first time since 2001, when David Duval pulled away from a four-way share of the lead on Sunday to capture his only major. It is the only links course in the rotation without a view of the sea. Lytham is a relatively small piece of property enclosed by houses and a railway, and littered with 206 bunkers that give the course its character.

The sixth hole has been converted to a par 4, so Lytham will be a par 70 for the first time.

Story Continues →