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The 2017 Open Championship: Who Are the Leading Contenders?

2017 Open Championship
Rory McIlroy, 2015. Photo by: Creative Commons, Cem0030

Royal Birkdale will play host to the 2017 Open Championship, but who are the leading contenders to lift the Claret Jug in the third of the year’s four majors?

The event returns to the links venue, located on the west coast of England in Southport, just north of Liverpool. For the first time since 2008, Padraig Harrington made back-to-back victories in the Open Championship.

Harrington and Ian Poulter, the man he beat by four shots nine years ago, have returned to form in recent weeks in the lead-up to the 2017 Open Championship and will be hoping to repeat their exploits on the Birkdale links. But there are so many players who will be targeting victory.

Rory McIlroy will be hoping the 2017 Open Championship can spark an improvement in his form. Even despite three missed cuts from his last four events, the Northern Irishman will still start as one of the favorites to add to his Open title won at Royal Liverpool at Hoylake in 2014—although he will need a dramatic improvement in fortunes to challenge.

World number one Dustin Johnson and fellow major champion Justin Spieth are familiar faces at the top of the betting markets with most bookmakers and it is no surprise given their exploits over the last year or two. However, neither have an Open Championship success on their resume.

Fellow American Rickie Fowler plays links golf well, winning the Scottish Open in the build-up 12 months ago, and is another that merits serious consideration. 2015 winner Zach Johnson also deserves recognition after he went close in the John Deere Classic before heading across the Atlantic.

Defending champions Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson—who won in 2013 before being edged out in a thrilling battle with the Swede at Troon last year—will be popular picks to repeat their previous exploits. Recent US Open Champion Brooks Koepka is also a favorite as he bids to make back-to-back major successes.

Three Spaniards lurk as significant dangers too. This year’s Masters champion Sergio Garcia will be joined by Jon Rahm and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, who won the Irish Open and Scottish Open respectively—the two key lead up events on the links in the weeks preceding the Open.

Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Paul Casey are other big names who could make an impact at Birkdale 2017 Open Championship, while local hope Tommy Fleetwood will be extremely popular in the north-west of England as he looks to build on his performance in the US Open.

One former Open Championship winner who will be absent is Ben Curtis, the 2003 champion, having withdrawn a week before the opening tee shot will be fired. But 2011 winner Darren Clarke, who, like Curtis, triumphed at Royal St George’s, does expect to tee it up despite pulling out of the Scottish Open with a knee injury.

Will there be a big name lifting the Claret Jug? Or will we see an unheralded name tame Britain’s links at the 2017 Open Championship?

See also: Rory McIlroy ‘Bans’ Himself from Twitter