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Eight Players To Watch At The Open

Cian Roche
By Cian Roche
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There is less than 24 hours to go until the 146th Open Championship begins at Royal Birkdale.

Starting with former champion Mark O'Meara at 6:35am, 156 players will tee off in the hope of being named the 2017 Champion Golfer of the Year on Sunday evening.

While some players will be simply delighted to be competing this week, others will leave disappointed if they don't have their hands on the Claret Jug come Sunday evening.

Here are some of the players to watch out for in the next four days.

Pundit's Choice

Hideki Matsuyama (22-1)

After his unprecedented success start to the season, many believe it’s a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ Hideki Matsuyama can win a major championship.

With golf’s big four misfiring to one degree or another at major championships in 2017, first time winners have made the most of their opportunity. In fact, in each of the last six major championships, stretching as far back as the 2016 Masters has been won by a first-time champion.


Sergio Garcia got that monkey of his back earlier this year in Augusta, as did Brooks Koepka at the US Open.

Now, the attention turns to the Japanese star who is considered one of the finest players in the world right now and the best according to golf legend Johnny Miller.

“The real hot shots in golf, like Dustin Johnson and Rory (McIlroy) and Jason Day… they’re not on the top of their game right now,” said Miller.


“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.”

Matsuyama’s record adds credence to this. Wins at the Phoenix Open and a tied second finish at the US Open last month show he is capable competing at the top.

Among his other stand-out performances were his tied 11th finish at the Masters earlier this year and a second place finish at the Tournament of Champions in January.


Despite finishing only in a tie for 14th at the Irish Open earlier this month, Matsuyama didn’t shoot a round over par and will be looking forward to testing himself again in more favourable links surroundings at Royal Birkdale.

Dustin Johnson (16-1)

Dustin Johnson’s blistering form at the start of the year should have signaled a year of domination for the American.


After winning his first ever US Open and major title in 2016 - just 12 months after he cruelly lost out to Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay - Johnson has shown he as the mental resilience to be the best in the world. Last winter he topped the world rankings for the first time in his career after a victory at the Genesis Open.

Hot favourite to blow the field away at Augusta in the Spring after winning three tournaments prior to the major, he was ruled out at the last minute when he slipped on the stairs and suffered a back injury.

Since then, Johnson has taken some time out to ensure he heals up properly and has returned to the course with a tied 12th finish at the PLAYERS Championship and a tied 13th finish at the Byron Nelson.


In his last two outings he has missed the cut - most notably at the US Open at Erin Hills - but despite this heads into The Open as favourite to lift only his second ever major championship.

A resounding return to form will be necessary if he is to reignite his season at Royal Birkdale.

Dark Horses

Tommy Fleetwood (25-1)


Tommy Fleetwood has been going about his business quietly over the last year. The current Race to Dubai leader turned heads after winning this year’s Open de France in Paris and has lept to number 15 in the world rankings.

Looking on was Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn, who was on hand to examine how potential 2018 Ryder Cup stars handled Le Golf National - the course on which Team Europe will attempt to win their trophy back from Team USA.

His victory in the French capital comes after a run of rotten form just 12 months prior; a missed cut at the Volvo China Open and a run of five events where he could only manage to keep himself below par at the end of a tournament just once.

Skip forward one year and the story is far different. Runner-up spots at the Shenzhen International and WGC-Mexico Championship events in the Spring have been followed by a fourth place finish at this year’s US Open.

His tied for sixth finish at the BMW International Open gave him the belief and confidence to win in France. Now, the Southport native returns home to compete at Royal Birkdale for the first time in his career.

“Good or bad, whatever the draw is, however I play, it's going to be an experience that I'll never forget,” he said after his victory in France. “Just for the sheer support I think that I'm going to have, which is exciting in itself to look forward to.”

A victory at The Open might seem a step too far for the Englishman, but his performances and consistency this year suggest that you could find far worse candidates to lift the Claret Jug.

Jon Rahm (18-1)

The towering Spaniard is the name on everyone’s lips. Such is the obsession with Rahm at the moment, journalists and fans even know his dinner of choice - T-Bone steak, in case you were wondering.

After his success at the Irish Open this month, Rahm admitted to sampling all the food the Causeway Coast had to offer and this year the Spaniard has shown similar hunger to scale the heights of global golf.

The 22-year-old, all 6’2 and 220lbs of him, is something you’d likely to see on the GAA pitch rather than the golf course. Rahm has used these attributes to his advantage with booming drives and excellent fairway accuracy.

Even his chipping and putting helped him to reel in Daniel Im and  Ryan Fox in Portstewart earlier this month. The victory added to the world number eight’s third place finish at the prestigious WGC-Mexico Championship and his runner-up spot in the WGC- Dell Technologies Match Play.

A disappointing performance in the US Open saw him miss the cut, but Rahm undoubtedly has the quality to compete with the best and will relish another chance to flex his muscles on a links course.

Outside Chances

Patrick Reed (66-1)


Reed’s stock rose considerably after his duel with Rory McIlroy at the 2016 Ryder Cup in Hazeltine.

The American fended off McIlroy’s best efforts to rouse his team from their slump, but even the four-time major winner couldn’t topple Reed on home soil.

Four top 20 finishes in his latest outings includes his finish of tied for 13th at the US Open. A top five finish at the Travelers Championship after a late surge show signs that he is beginning to find some semblance of last year’s form.

Reed had exhibited good consistency since then and has not registered a single over-par round since his final round 74 at Erin Hills - a total of 12 rounds scoring par or under.

The 26-year-old is looked upon as an outside chance for this year’s Open Championship and could likely spring an upset if he can maintain consistency in his game.

His stats don’t make for overwhelming reading: 111th in driving distance, 157th in putting averages and 121st in stroke averages. However, his play-off victory over Tyrrell Hatton at the Dundonald Links before the Scottish Open may give him the added bonus he needs heading into this week’s event.

Reed donned his ‘Ryder Cup pants’ at the US Open this year to revive the ghost of Hazeltine and if he can do so again at Royal Birkdale, the American could pull off a stunning upset in Southport.

Phil Mickelson (50-1)

Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson is always considered a threat. Despite failing to win any competition this season, the 47-year-old has will have his tail up heading to Royal Birkdale for two reasons.

The first comes down to the fact that he missed the US Open last month. The major to elude him - having finished runner-up there six times - clashed with his daughter’s High School Graduation.

“As I look back on life, this is a moment I’ll always cherish and be glad I was present,” Mickelson told the New York Times regarding his decision. “There’s no greater joy as a parent.”

His wait to win at his home open and to complete a clean sweep of majors will goes on.

After finishing ninth at the St. Jude Classic, the California native took a month off and will no doubt be ready for the challenge of Royal Birkdale.

The second falls down to the magnitude of his battle with Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon last year.

Having come so close to besting rival Henrik Stenson - which included a final round 65 - and coming up short.

Not only did he fall short in the overall result, but also in setting a new major championship record when he was millimetres from shooting a 62 in the opening round in Scotland.

Mickelson will feel there’s a certain amount of unfinished business at The Open.

Don’t Discount

Jordan Spieth (16-1)

Spieth’s stylish victory at the Travelers Championship came at the right time for the young Texan.

His tenth PGA Tour win at the age of just 23, Spieth’s chip from the bunker to win in Connecticut served as a timely reminder to those around him that he was going nowhere.

A tied for 11th result at Augusta this year - at a major where he already boasts a green jacket after his 2015 victory - was followed by two missed cuts.

An early exit at the PLAYERS Championship as well as an underwhelming performance at the Byron Nelson left Spieth scratching his head.

He insisted that ‘everything was in place’ in his game, but that some work still needed to be done on the greens.

A good performance in the Memorial Tournament and a final round 69 at the US Open offered signs that his game was taking shape. The pieces of the puzzle came together in Cromwell.

A play-off victory over Daniel Berger was enough to earn him another victory and hand Spieth momentum heading into this week’s Open Championship.

Last year, Spieth struggled to make any headway except for the final day of play with a 68, but settled for a share of 30th.

Justin Rose (22-1)

Despite Justin Rose’s distinguished career, which includes an Olympic gold medal from Rio 2016 and a US Open success in 2013, it may come as a surprise to point out that the Englishman’s best performance at the Open came all the way back in 1998 - as an amateur.

A 17-year-old Rose became the toast of the tournament after attempting to challenge for the Claret Jug after a second round of 66. His challenge faded after shooting a 75 in the third round and since then he hasn’t made a bigger impact at British golf’s showpiece.

Narrowly missing out on a top-10 finish in 2007 and 2009, he finished in a tie for sixth in 2015 behind eventual winner Zach Johnson.

Contrasting fortunes appeared in this year’s major championships for the 36-year-old: a second place finish at the Masters after his play-off defeat to Sergio Garica was offset by his missed cut at the US Open in June.

A disappointing finish in a tie for 65th at the PLAYERS championship highlighted again his need for consistency and the lack thereof in his overall game this season.

Past experience does tell us his ability to perform under pressure and already this season he has put himself in a position to win a major championship.

As the action returns to Royal Birkdale for a second time since he put himself on the map as an amateur all those years ago.

The question remains as to whether Rose can rediscover that spark this week.


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