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Open Championship Preview: Contenders, Pretenders and More

It’s mid-July, so it’s time to eat breakfast and watch major championship golf. The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale for the first time since 2008. Some of the biggest names in the game have won here — Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson.

Below are my picks for who’s going to contend — and who isn’t.

Who Should Contend

Jon Rahm – The red-hot 22-year-old Spaniard should be one to watch. He’s had a breakout season in his maiden PGA Tour season, winning the Farmers Insurance Open in January and netting seven Top 10s along the way. He’s also fresh off a win at the Irish Open earlier this month, which pushed him to No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

The biggest question with Rahm is his temper. Can he avoid a meltdown under all of that major championship pressure? Apparently he’s hired a bomb expert to help diffuse it.

Hideki Matsuyama – Matsuyama is having a great year with two PGA Tour wins this season. He finished T2 at the US Open, and finished T11 at The Masters and T4 at the PGA last year. He’s primed for a breakthrough major win, and this could be it. He’s certainly an unbelievable talent.

Jordan Spieth – I think Jordan’s hole-out win at the Travelers Championship over Daniel Berger should do a lot for his confidence heading into the Open. After 5 straight top five finishes in majors, the last five have been pretty underwhelming — the best of the bunch was a T11 at Augusta this year. I have a feeling he’ll be in the mix.

What about Dustin Johnson? Yes, he’s the world No. 1 and the Vegas favorite. But I don’t like him for this tournament. Just my gut.

Who Won’t

Rory McIlroy – Three years removed from his last major — the 2014 PGA Championship — Rors has been struggling, relatively speaking. He’s still a phenom, but he’s missed cuts in 3 out of the last five majors. He did finish T5 at last year’s British (16 shots behind Henrik Stenson) and finished T7 at The Masters, but it never felt like he was in it. He’s hard to figure out — he’ll miss a cut in a major and then score a Top 10 in the next one. Who knows.

Coming off two straight missed cuts at the Irish and Scottish Opens, I don’t feel a lot of momentum here.

Phil Mickelson – Lefty’s 2013 Open win was a surprise to a lot of people, himself included. It didn’t seem like he had the type of game suited for links golf. But he took the title at Muirfield and nearly pulled it out at Troon last year if not for Stenson’s final round 63. I don’t think that will happen again this year. If Phil manages to nab another major, it will be at Augusta. Not Royal Birkdale.

Henrik Stenson – Speaking of Stenson, I don’t anticipate a repeat performance this year from last year’s champion. Fun fact: the last two guys to repeat were Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington, who did it back-to-back. This season has been pretty unremarkable for Stenson, including missed cuts at The Masters and the US Open.

Dark Horses

Tommy Fleetwood – If you can call the No. 14 ranked player in the world a dark horse, Tommy Fleetwood is. Fleetwood has posted two European tour wins so far this year — the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January and HNA Open de France earlier this month. He almost won the WGC-Mexico and finished 4th at the US Open after leading briefly. Plus this statistical model likes him

Louis Oosthuizen – I love Louis. I don’t think I’ve ever pulled harder for a golfer than I did for Louis when he lost to the PGA Tour’s resident crybaby and whiner Bubba Watson in the playoff at the 2012 Masters. He almost won his second Claret Jug in 2015, losing in a playoff to Zach Johnson. Yeah he disappears from time to time, but when he’s playing well at a major, he’s usually in the mix.

Xander Schauffele – This one is a big long-shot, but I like it. The Greenbrier Classic champion finished T5 in his major championship debut at Erin Hills. Can he keep it rolling after notching his first Tour victory? Plus he has a cool name.

My Pick for Champion Golfer of the Year

Justin Rose – The easy-going Englishman is due for another major after winning the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion and having a couple of close calls at The Masters, the closest one coming this year in the playoff against Sergio Garcia. Currently ranked No. 12 in the world, some people may be sleeping on him. I think he has the game to win multiple more majors before all is said and done.

I think it all comes together for him again at Birkdale, where he stormed onto the world golf stage as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998.

Photo Credit: Royal Birkdale Golf Club.