British Open predictions: 10 contenders to watch at Royal Birkdale

By Doug Ferguson
Published on
British Open predictions: 10 contenders to watch at Royal Birkdale

SOUTHPORT, England — A capsule look at 10 top contenders for the Open Championship, to be played July 20-23 at Royal Birkdale (listed in predicted order of finish):

Dustin Johnson

Age: 33.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 1.

Worldwide Victories: 15.

Majors: US Open (2016).

2017 Majors: Masters-DNP, US Open-Cut.

Open Championship Memory: The 2-iron he hit out-of-bounds on the 14th at Royal St. George's as he was closing in on Darren Clarke in 2011.

Backspin: Johnson lost a lot of momentum with that slip down the stairs that knocked him out of the Masters. He hasn't played the weekend of a major since the Open Championship last year (two missed cuts and a withdrawal). He hasn't played since missing the cut at the U.S. Open, but there is a sense of determination to not let the year go by without having a chance. Royal Birkdale is a big golf course.

Sergio Garcia

Age: 37.

Country: Spain.

World Ranking: 5.

Worldwide Victories: 26.

Majors: Masters (2017).

2017 Majors: Masters-Won, US Open-T21.

Open Championship Memory: Complaining that he was playing against "more than the field" when he lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie in 2007.

Backspin: The Masters champion has a lot on his plate. He is getting married in Texas right after the Open, and then has another major right behind it. Then again, lowered expectations seem to work out pretty well for Garcia, and links golf is a passion. Garcia has more top 10s in the Open than any other major. The last player to win his first major at the Masters later in his career was Mark O'Meara, who then won the claret jug at Royal Birkdale.

Jordan Spieth

Age: 23.

Country: Unites States.

World Ranking: 3.

Worldwide Victories: 13.

Majors: Masters (2015), US Open (2015).

2017 Majors: Masters-T11, US Open-T35.

Open Championship Memory: Rolling in a 50-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole at St. Andrews to tie for the lead with two holes to play in his bid for the Grand Slam. He made bogey on the next hole and finished one out of a playoff.

Backspin: Winning for the second time this year is sure to wonders for his confidence. The sample size remains small on his performance in links golf. He missed the playoff at St. Andrews by one shot in 2015 when he was riding high. He hasn't contended his other three times at Muirfield, Hoylake and Troon.

Rory McIlroy

Age: 28.

Country: Northern Ireland.

World Ranking: 4.

Worldwide Victories: 21.

Majors: US Open (2011), The Open Championship (2014), PGA Championship (2012, 2014).

2017 Majors: Masters-T7, US Open-Cut.

Open Championship Memory: The 5-iron into the 18th at Royal Liverpool during his 2014 victory, the epitome of a player in full control of his game.

Backspin: McIlroy keeps waiting to hit his stride, and instead he hit a bump in the road by missing the cut at the Irish Open. He says his rib injury is not an issue, and his game is capable of turning at a moment's notice. Most startling is that McIlroy hasn't seriously contended in a major since he won his last won at the 2014 PGA Championship.

Phil Mickelson

Age: 47.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 25.

Worldwide Victories: 45.

RELATED: Phil Mickelson is going to play the Open without a driver in his bag

Majors: Masters (2004, 2006, 2010), The Open Championship (2013), PGA Championship (2005).

2017 Majors: Masters-T22, US Open-DNP.

Open Championship Memory: His 65 in the final round at Muirfield in 2013 to capture the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

Backspin: This is the first time since 2006 that Mickelson hasn't played the week before the Open. And it will be his first major without his regular caddie, Jim Mackay, working for him. More troubling is that Lefty has gone four years without winning, the longest drought of his career. This will be his fourth time playing Royal Birkdale, though he has not played it particularly well.

RELATED: The Open Championship 2017: Purse size, tournament FAQs

Brooks Koepka

Age: 27.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 11.

Worldwide Victories: 3.

Majors: US Open (2017).

2017 Majors: Masters-T11, US Open-Won.

Open Championship Memory: Refusing to play in wind so strong at St. Andrews in 2015 that his ball wouldn't stay still on the 11th green. Play was suspended.

Backspin: The last player to win the U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same year was Tiger Woods in 2000, and before that it was Tom Watson in 1982. Koepka has not competed since winning at the U.S. Open. This will be a tighter test than Erin Hills.

Henrik Stenson

Age: 41.

Country: Sweden.

World Ranking: 7.

Worldwide Victories: 18.

Majors: The Open Championship (2016).

2017 Majors: Masters-Cut, US Open-Cut.

Open Championship Memory: The 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole at Royal Troon, capping off his masterpiece with a 63 to win with the lowest score in major history.

Backspin: Stenson runs in streaks, and he's on the wrong end of one going into his title defense. He hasn't won since his record performance last year at Royal Troon, and he missed the cut in both majors this year. That doesn't bode well for his chances of being the first player to keep the claret jug since Tiger Woods in 2006.

Jason Day

Age: 29.

Country: Australia.

World Ranking: 6.

Worldwide Victories: 12.

Majors: PGA Championship (2015).

2017 Majors: Masters-T22, US Open-Cut.

Open Championship Memory: Leaving a 30-foot birdie putt short on the 18th green at St. Andrews in 2015 that would have put him in a playoff.

Backspin: Day was hopeful of keeping the No. 1 ranking for the entire calendar year, and now he is No. 6. Whether it was the distraction of his mother's health or a loss of confidence, he is close to becoming an afterthought at the biggest events this year. Day's only chance of winning this year was a playoff loss at the Byron Nelson.

Hideki Matsuyama

Age: 25.

Country: Japan.

World Ranking: 2.

Worldwide Victories: 13.

Majors: None.

2017 Majors: Masters-T11, US Open-T2.

Open Championship Memory: Tying for 6th in his Open Championship debut in 2013 at Muirfield.

Backspin: Since missing the cut at Royal Troon last year, Matsuyama has finished no worse than a tie for 11th in the majors. Then again, he hasn't seriously challenged in them. That will be the test. He goes into this major at No. 2 in the world, which is sure to only add to the expectations from his country to become the first Japanese player to win a major.

Jon Rahm

Age: 22.

Country: Spain.

World Ranking: 8.

Worldwide Victories: 2.

Majors: None.

2017 Majors: Masters-T27, US Open-Cut.

Open Championship Memory: Qualifying in his first start as a pro with a tie for third in the Quicken Loans National.

Backspin: Coming off a six-shot victory in the Irish Open, the excitement over the Spaniard is sure to ramp up again, just as it did going into the Masters. Royal Birkdale was kind to another young Spaniard in 1976 when 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros was runner-up to Johnny Miller. Not many outside Europe knew about Ballesteros back then. Everyone in golf is well aware of Rahm.

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to