The Open 2021: Why Jon Rahm carries Tiger Woods level expectations as overwhelming favourite at Royal St George’s

There was a time when Tiger Woods was expected to win every golf tournament he entered.

Here at Royal St George’s, there is a similar feeling of inevitability surrounding Jon Rahm and The 149th Open.

It’s difficult to look past the US Open champion this week

It was only a matter of time before his first Major triumph at last month’s US Open – and now many consider the floodgates breached.

Before Torrey Pines, Rahm was withdrawn from the Memorial Tournament due to COVID after the third round, denying a certain victory, with the Spaniard six shots clear and playing scintillating golf.

The 26-year-old came back with a thrilling performance in San Diego, which was followed by a seventh-place finish at last week’s Scottish Open, ending up just two shots back after four rounds in the sixties.

Having won the Irish Open twice and finishing tied for 11th at his debut Open in 2019, Rahm is built for links golf.

Rahm was on fire in practice

All those things – the astonishing form coupled with a perfectly-suited game for the test of St George’s – were on display during Wednesday’s practice round.

Featuring in a star-studded foursome with Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, followed by the kind of crowd you would expect on Sunday, it was Rahm who inspired the most ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’.

Such an overwhelming favourite is almost unheard of at The Open, especially at such an unpredictable venue, but to watch Rahm today was to understand why.

Of course, one mistake can change all that, but even St George’s, despite its love of an underdog, allows the cream to rise near the top.

A big crowd descended on Kent to watch the players practice – and they were treated to this group

Tiger was only two behind Ben Curtis in 2003, despite a triple bogey on his opening hole, while Darren Clarke still had to fight off Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson in 2011.

With softer, fairer conditions in Sandwich, this Open could follow the script, like it did in 1993 when Greg Norman showed his class, or when Sandy Lyle won in 1985.

Rather fittingly, given the level of expectation, Rahm could become the first man since Tiger in 2000 to win both the US Open and The Open in a season.

But talkSPORT’s Rupert Bell has seen enough scripts ripped up before his eyes to know when it’s about to happen.

And our golf correspondent isn’t backing a Rahm victory this week.

Rahm lost his place as world no. 1 to DJ earlier this week

Rupert said: “I’m sure he’s going to be right in the mix, because he’s clearly in such a comfortable place.

“He’s been talking about not tweaking anything, everyone expected him to win a Major and he did it in the most brilliant fashion.

“But I just think to try and win the US Open and Open Championship in the same year is a big ask, only five men have done it before. Tiger did it in 2000.

“It’s hard enough winning one. It was such an emotional high for him, he’d just had a baby, everything’s good in his life. But I think history is against him doing it.”

There is no future in the rough this week

So if not Rahm, then who?

Rupert added: “This place throws up surprise winners. If you look through the roll of honour, it’s not all stellar names. Yes, you’ve got Greg Norman and Sandy Lyle.

“But you look at Bill Rodgers, Ben Curtis, and Darren Clarke.

“So who this year? I’ve got a lot of admiration for Scottie Scheffler, he seems to have a good golfing brain and could be right in the hunt.

Are we all forgetting about Jordan Spieth?

“I also like the look of Robert MacIntyre, the lefty from Oban in Scotland, where I played a lot in my childhood at his golf course – so that might be heart over head!

“I do think Jordan Spieth should be respected. He’s gone under the radar, I’ve hardly read a single thing about him this week and I think, ‘Why?’”

You can find out on talkSPORT 2 this weekend, through our live ball-by-ball coverage, with regular updates from the course on talkSPORT