10 Players to Watch: 146th Open Championship

  1. Jon Rahm, Spain — When Rahm came out of Arizona State last year, Phil Mickelson said he already was one of the best players in the world, and it turns out Lefty was right. The rookie has won on both major tours this season, capturing the Farmers Insurance Open by three strokes at Torrey Pines in January and the Irish Open by six shots in his last start two weeks ago. Rahm has finished in the top 10 in seven events on the PGA Tour this season, losing to top-ranked Dustin Johnson in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finishing second in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational. He has climbed to fifth in the FedExCup Rankings and No. 7 in the Official World Golf Rankings. He also tied for 10th in the Open de France and is third in the Race to Dubai standings on the European Tour. Rahm’s victory at Portstewart in Northern Ireland showed that he can play links courses, even though he only tied for 59th at Royal Troon in his first Open Championship a year ago.


  1. Jordan Spieth, United States — Wanting to get an early start on his links preparation ahead of the 146th Open Championship this week at Royal Birkdale, Spieth passed on the John Deere Classic, which he won for his first PGA Tour victory in 2013 and again two years later. He will be playing for the first time since he claimed his 10th victory on the circuit three weeks ago in the Travelers Championship after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. Spieth is fourth in the FedExCup standings and also No. 3 in the world, in what is close to an absolutely monster season, as he also tied for second in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational and was third in the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii. The two-time major champion is making his fifth start in the Open Championship and his best result was a tie for fourth in 2015 at St. Andrews after he won the Masters and U.S. Open earlier in the season.


  1. Dustin Johnson, United States — The top-ranked player in the world and FedExCup points leader has not cracked the top 10 since being forced to withdraw on the eve of the Masters because of a back injury. He tied for 13th in the AT&T Byron Nelson before missing the cut in the Memorial Tournament and the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Johnson was a cumulative 12-over-par in those last two events and could be rusty when he gets to Royal Birkdale after taking a month off. Before that, he was proving he is the best player in the world with six top-10 results, including victories in the Genesis Open, the WGC-Mexico Championship and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Johnson, whose only major title came in the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, is making his ninth straight appearance in the Open Championship and he has finished in the top 10 three times, including a tie for second in 2011, when he was one shot behind eventual winner Darren Clarke before driving out of bounds on the 14th hole at Royal St. Georges.


  1. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan — Following his runner-up finish behind Brooks Koepka in the U.S. Open last month at Erin Hills, his fifth finish in the top two this season on the PGA Tour, Matsuyama is ranked No. 2 in the world and also is second in the FedExCup point standings, behind Dustin Johnson in both. His world ranking is the highest ever for a player from Japan. He has victories in the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Waste Management Phoenix Open this season, and his other second-place finishes came in the CIMB Classic and the SBS Tournament of Champions. This will be his fifth appearance in the Open Championship and his best result was a tie for sixth in 2013 at Muirfield. Matsuyama just missed another top-10 major finish in April when he tied for 11th in the Masters, and last year he tied for fourth in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol and tied for seventh at Augusta National, giving him six top-10 results in the Grand Slam events since 2013.


  1. Sergio Garcia, Spain — The Masters champion has rested since finishing one shot behind Andres Romero of Argentina in a tie for second in the BMW International Open in Germany last month, and should be fresh as he tries to claim the second major title of his season and career this week in the Open Championship. Garcia, No. 5 in the world, also won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic early this year and ranks second in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai point standings behind Tommy Fleetwood of England. The Spaniard is making his 20th consecutive start in the Open and had some heart-breaking finishing, losing to Padraig Harrington in a playoff in 2007 at Carnoustie and tying for second, two strokes behind Rory McIlroy in 2014 at Royal Liverpool. Garcia also tied for fifth three times, last year at Royal Troon, in 2006 at Royal Liverpool and in 2005 at St. Andrews. He has a total of 10 finishes in the top 10 in the third major of the season.


  1. Justin Rose, England — Even though he has won 18 times as a pro, including the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, Rose is remembered almost as much for his last shot as an amateur, when he chipped in for a birdie on the 18th hole at Royal Birkdale to finish in a tie for fourth in the 1998 Open Championship. That remains his best result in the third major of the year and he could manage only a tie for 70th when the tournament returned to the Southport, England, links course in 2008, posting an ugly 82 in the third round. In fact, Rose’s only other top-10 result in 15 appearances in the Open was a tie for sixth two years ago at St. Andrews. The 2016 Olympic gold medalist has not won on the PGA Tour since the 2015 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, although he came close earlier this year when he lost in a playoff to Sergio Garcia in the Masters and also finished second at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Rose tied for fourth two weeks ago in the Irish Open.


  1. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland — Although he remains No. 4 in the world, McIlroy has struggled recently with missed cuts in three of his last four starts, including the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, the Irish Open of which he is the host, and the Scottish Open last week. He has missed time because of a rib injury this year, but what he needs right now is a quick fix with the putter, as he has struggled mightily on the greens while trying several models lately. McIlroy has not won since he wrapped up the FedExCup by taking the Tour Championship last September, but he started this season with three consecutive top-10 finishes and also tied for seventh in the Masters. McIlroy, a four-time major champion, is making his ninth start in the Open and he claimed the Claret Jug by two strokes over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia in 2014 at Royal Liverpool. He also tied for third in 2010 at St. Andrews and tied for sixth last year at Royal Troon.


  1. Henrik Stenson, Sweden — The Big Swede defends his title this week in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, having become the first Swedish man to win a major golf title when he outplayed Phil Mickelson down the stretch at Royal Troon. Stenson birdied four of the last five holes to shoot a bogey-free 8-under-par 63, the 29th time a player has posted that record score in the Grand Slam events. He finished at 20-under, tying the lowest score in relation to par in a major set by Jason Day in the 2015 PGA Championship. Stenson is playing in the Open this week for the 13th time, and his best previous finish was second in 2013, three shots behind Mickelson at Muirfield. He likes Royal Birkdale, having tied for third there in 2008, and also tied for third in 2010 at St. Andrews. Stenson is No. 7 in the world, with his best results this season a tie for second in the WGC-HSBC Champions, a tie for seventh in the Valspar Championship and a tie for 10th last month in the BMW International Open.


  1. Rickie Fowler, United States — With four top-10 finishes in his last five starts on both sides of the Atlantic, Fowler might finally be ready to capture his first major championship. After tying for second in the Memorial Tournament, he tied for fifth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills and tied for third in the Quicken Loans National. Then he headed for the United Kingdom, where he tied for ninth in the Scottish Open, which he won two years ago. The 10th-ranked Fowler will tee it up in the Open Championship for the eighth time, with his best finish a tie for second in 2014 Royal Liverpool. That was part of his brilliant run in the majors that year, as he also tied for fifth in the Masters, tied for second in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and tied for third in the PGA Championship at Valhalla. Fowler, who tied for 11th in the Masters this year, has seven top-10 results in the majors in his career and it’s time to win one.


  1. Adam Scott, Australia — It’s hard to believe that Scott has only one major title, becoming the only Aussie to win the Masters in 2013 when he beat Angel Cabrera of Argentina with a birdie on the second playoff hole. It’s just that he’s had so many chances, particularly when he had a four-stroke lead with four holes to play in the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. But closed with four straight bogeys and allowed Ernie Els to take the title by one shot with a birdie on the final hole. That’s one of his Scott’s five top-10 results in the Open and he has a total of 16 in the majors. Once the top-ranked player in the world, he has slipped to No. 15, but was on a good run this season with a tie for ninth in the Masters, a tie for sixth in the Players Championship and a tie for 10th in the St. Jude Classic before missing the cut in the U.S. Open last month at Erin Hills.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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