The season's third major championship -- The Open Championship -- is upon us this week from Royal Troon in Troon, Scotland. This week will mark the ninth time that Royal Troon will hosts the game's oldest major.
Troon hosted its first Open in 1923 when England's Arthur Havers was the victor. American Todd Hamilton defeated Ernie Els in a playoff when the Open was last held at Troon in 2004.
One thing we can be sure of -- as is always the case at the Open -- is this: weather will be a factor. Who will have the luck of the draw?
That's too soon to tell, but here's a look at seven pairings you'll want to watch in the first two rounds (order is listed chronologically based on first-round tee time):
7. Branden Grace, Patrick Reed, Byeong Hun An
Tee times: 8:03 a.m. Thursday; 1:04 p.m. Friday
Reason to watch: Grace has really been knocking on the door at majors over the past couple of seasons. He has three top-5 finishes in the majors since the 2015 U.S. Open, most recently a T5 in the 2016 U.S. Open. While his Open record isn't outstanding -- his best finish was a T20 last year -- it's the only major in which he has yet to miss a cut. Reed and An have yet to tally a top-10 in a major, but both players are more than capable of ending that drought this week.
6. Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry
Tee times: 9:03 a.m. Thursday; 2:04 p.m. Friday
Reason to watch: OK. So Spieth and Rose are a given when it comes to players to watch in any tournament. For Spieth, a win here would grab him three legs of the career Grand Slam and -- under no certain terms -- erase the Sunday meltdown at Augusta National in April so people can stop asking about it. Surprisingly for Rose, his best Open finish remains that T4 as a 17-year-old at Royal Birkdale in 1998. In fact, his only Open top-10 since was a T6 last year at St. Andrews. That brings us to Lowry who should not be overlooked. He won a World Golf Championship a year ago and has collected three top-10 finishes in major in the last three seasons, highlighted by last month's T2 in the U.S. Open. Lowry is a player who has really come into his own lately and it wouldn't be shocking at all to see him walk away from Royal Troon with the Claret Jug.
5. Danny Willett, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day
Tee times: 9:25 a.m. Thursday; 2:26 p.m. Friday
Reason to watch: This, right here, is a monster trio to follow for the first two rounds. The reigning Masters champ (Willett), the reigning PGA Champion (Day) and a player in Fowler who, though still major-less, snagged top-5 finishes in all four majors in 2014. As a major winner, Willett is now in a new stratosphere. Day enters as the world No. 1 and returns to the tournament that began his incredible run one year ago when he thought he had the tournament won, but instead finished T4. He responded by tallying seven of his 10 career PGA Tour wins since, including his first major at Whistling Straits, two PGA Tour Playoffs events and the Players Championship. Fowler had been slumping -- three missed cuts in his last five starts -- but may have found something at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a T10, in his last start.
4. Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Bubba Watson
Tee times: 9:36 a.m. Thursday; 2:37 p.m. Friday
Reason to watch: Rory McIlroy has been itching for this week to begin for two reasons. First, with all due respect to defending champ Zach Johnson, McIlroy is also sort of a defending champ this year. He won the Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014, but was unable to defend at St. Andrews a year ago after sustaining an ankle injury while playing soccer with some friends. Secondly, McIlroy is reeling from a missed cut at Oakmont in the U.S. Open a few weeks ago. It was his first missed cut in a major since the 2013 Open. Matsuyama is one of the best young players in the game and has come close in four majors, including the Open where he finished T6 in 2013. And as for Watson, the Open is his lone major without a top-5 finishe, which is surprising when you consider that he may be the most creative player in the game today with his ball-shaping abilities. Will that trend turn this week at Troon?
3. Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els
Tee times: 1:26 p.m. Thursday; 8:25 a.m. Friday
Reason to watch: Just because this trio is made up for forty-somethings, don't think of it as one for nostalgia. All three are still very capable of winning. Open Championship venues -- more so than the other three major championships -- or the kind where anyone could win. Mickelson and Els both proved that with what were sort of "surprise" wins when they turned the trick in 2013 and 2012, respectfully -- same goes for Darren Clarke who did it in 2011. Westwood has come agonizingly close to winning a major so many times. If he could get it done this week, he'd be a very popular champion.
2. Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Russell Knox
Tee times: 2:04 p.m. Thursday; 9:03 a.m. Friday
Reason to watch: Talk about a breath of fresh air for Dustin Johnson. For the first time in a long time, he enters a major with virtually no pressure. That's not to say he isn't going to grind like crazy to try and win. It's to note that at Oakmont, he finally became a major champ after so many near misses. Years from now, will we look back at that U.S. Open victory as a win that opened the major floodgates for Johnson the same way the 2004 Masters did for Phil Mickelson? Time will tell. But it'll be interesting to see how he fares in his first major as a major champion. Kaymer has had an incredibly slow season by his standards on the PGA Tour (no top 10s in eight starts), but is showing some flashes in Europe of late with a T5 and a T13 in consecutive weeks at the Open de France and Scottish Open, respectively. Knox, a native Scot, is enjoying his best PGA Tour season to date. Three top 10s, including a win at the WGC-HSBC Champions. Can he thrive on being paired alongside two major champions?
1. Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson
Tee times: 2:15 p.m. Thursday; 9:14 a.m. Friday
Reason to watch: Highlighted by defending champ Zach Johnson, this threesome is as strong as you'll find in the first two rounds with Scott and Stenson along for the stroll as well. Scott and a major-less Stenson have had more close calls at the Open than they probably care to remember. It wouldn't be the least but surprising to see these three names on the first page of the leaderboard come Sunday.