SOUTHPORT, England — So artful are the usual gambling options in this creative nation that anyone can bet on some serious minutiae concerning the 146th British Open, which begins today. Which golfer will finish first among Thai players, among Indian players, among Swedes, among Danes, among Scandinavians, among continental Europeans? Will there be a hole-in-one, a wire-to-wire winner, a playoff? Will the winner wear a hat?
Wait, what about Rory McIlroy at a heaping 20-1 at sportsbooks?
"Good time to back me, I think," McIlroy said brightly Wednesday.
Three years ago, McIlroy was the best player in the world without a trace of argument. He won the final two majors of the year, with a World Golf Championship title in between. He had reason to believe his reign would last as long as he wanted it to.
Now he's simply trying to get back into the conversation.
The starkest reminder of the state of his game was not so much missing three cuts in his past four tournaments. It was being told on the eve of the British Open that the bookies listed him at 20-1 to win at Royal Birkdale.
"If I was a betting company and I saw my form over the past few weeks, yeah, that's probably a fair enough price," he said. "But again, all it takes is one week for those odds to go back."
He has been through these minislumps more than once in the 10 years since he first played the British Open at Carnoustie. McIlroy missed four of five cuts in 2012, including his title defense in the U.S. Open, and ended the summer by winning the PGA Championship to return to No. 1 in the world.
This one has been the most aggravating because it involves injury.
The hairline rib fracture he suffered in January during the South African Open is no longer an issue, but it forced him to sit out nearly two months, and then he played only once in two months between the Masters and the U.S. Open in part because the injury was acting up.
It all led to what McIlroy describes as a start-and-stop year, one that to this point doesn't include a trophy.
"But I'm in good spirits," he said. "I feel like it's all coming together. I'm just waiting for that round or that moment or that week where it sort of clicks and I'll be off and running."
As for his odds?
That speaks to a broader picture of the British Open. Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world, and Jordan Spieth have taken turns as the favorite by the bookies. Right behind them is Jon Rahm, the dynamic 22-year-old from Spain who has won twice this year. Masters champion Sergio Garcia is right up there.
There is no clear favorite.
Johnson was close to being a dominant figure when he won three straight tournaments against the strongest fields of the year at the time, and then he slipped down the stairs on the eve of the Masters, wrenched his back and didn't swing a club for a month.
Jason Day ended last year at No. 1 and then found himself emotionally wrapped up in tending to his mother, who was diagnosed with lung cancer.
McIlroy wouldn't have seen this coming at the end of last year when he won the FedEx Cup. "But these things sort of crop up out of nowhere and they challenge us," he said.