THE eyes of the golfing world will descend on Royal Birkdale today as the 146th Open Championship begins.

Back in 2008, David Howell recorded his highest finish in a major when he claimed a tie for seventh on the Southport links, and ahead of this year’s contest, the Swindon golfer has handed out his verdict.

While Howell, who failed to qualify this year, says form is important, experienced players should not be ruled out in the race to claim the Claret Jug.

“It is interesting because there are top people who aren’t showing a lot of form like Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, who has missed last two cuts,” said the two-time Ryder Cup winner.

“Jason Day is another one of the top guys who hasn’t been playing as well as last year.

“A bit closer to home, Tommy Fleetwood is as hot as anyone.

“Another one is Spain’s Jon Rahm who is probably the one to watch after winning a links event a couple of weeks ago.”

Back on the opening day in 2008, Howell was up against it as the weather played its part in him carding a six-over 76.

Conditions could again affect the outcome this year as wind and rain loom towards the end of the week.

Because of that, Howell believes it will be a tough test for those who are stepping out in Southport this morning.

“Last time I played at Birkdale the weather was atrocious. The course is a tough test when the weather is good,” added Howell.

“Rain you can cope with better than wind, but it is when you get both it becomes problematic.

“Of course you are not alone when you are playing in those conditions. Often the weather has a large impact so all you want is the conditions to be reasonably fair.”

Injury and a lack of form have blighted Howell’s career over the past two seasons, with back, hip and wrist trouble all contributing to him missing 19 cuts over the last two years.

While he admits it is frustrating, he believes it will only make him more focussed as he bids to get back on track.

“I’m not sure if I will be watching the Open, I am just at home working on my game. I’ll have a look at the weekend,” said Howell.

“It is a bit of a funny one because there is a bit of envy that you’re not there but it makes you all the more determined for the future.”