Golf: Hideki Matsuyama the one to beat at Birkdale, says former champion Johnny Miller

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama in action during the final round of the  Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on July 9 2017.
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama in action during the final round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on July 9 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

(Reuters) - Former British Open champion Johnny Miller has pegged Hideki Matsuyama as the early favourite to win next week's championship at Royal Birkdale and become Japan's first Major winner.

But Miller, who won the title at the course in 1976, said on Tuesday that picking a champion was even tougher than usual in view of the poor form of several of the sport's biggest names.

"The real hotshots in golf, like Dustin Johnson and Rory (McIlroy) and Jason Day... they're not on the top of their game right now," Miller said, adding Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas to that list.

"So I don't know what to expect, because Majors are a whole different animal but Hideki, I think he's the best player right now.

"Tournament in and tournament out his bad shots are really good, which is what you need at Birkdale. And I think that he's ready to win."

World No. 2 Matsuyama tied for second at the U.S. Open last month behind Brooks Koepka, though he has the added pressure of trying to become the first Japanese to win a men's Major.

Miller, speaking on a telephone conference call promoting the Golf Channel and NBC coverage of the Open in the United States, does not think Birkdale is likely to throw up an obscure winner.

Eight of the nine previous Opens there were won by multiple Major champions.