Royal Birkdale hosts the Open Championship for the 10th time as Swede Henrik Stenson looks to defend the title he claimed in record-breaking fashion last year. This historic location has been the setting for more Championships and events since World War Two than any other course in the world.
However, unlike Wimbledon, this event is going to be an extremely difficult one to call and it is fair to say that the days of Tiger Woods-style domination are over with the last seven Grand Slams all having first-time champions.
Surrounded by towering dunes and the gruelling combination of possible 30mph winds and tight fairways, the course has proved to be a stern examination for even the greatest links players in the games history. This is evidenced by the last time that The Open was held here nine years ago, the winning score was +3 and players made the cut with +9.
Links golf is all about patience and enduring what is often a long-drawn-out 72 holes, but now is not the time to wait. We assess the leading candidates and those with an outside chance of lifting the coveted Claret Jug.
Odds: 14/1 (Sky Bet)
The big-hitting world number one goes into Southport as the pre-tournament Open Championship favourite although his blistering start to the year has fizzled out in recent months. His Genesis Open win in February saw him become only the third player in Tour history to win a Tour title in his first 10 seasons.
However his previous Open form leaves much to be desired with a tie for second place at Royal St George’s six years ago the pick of the bunch. Has enjoyed some time off and given warning to the rest of the chasing pack by affirming that his “game is starting to get back to what it was.” On his day, he is more than capable of coming in with a big performance and will strike if the iron gets hot.
Odds: 14/1 (888Sport)
The American has failed to produce his best at a major since his famous meltdown at the 2016 Masters which saw him finish second to Danny Willett despite leading by five strokes heading into the back-nine.
Speith comes into the Championship in strong form having claimed the Travelers Championship last month after holing out from a greenside bunker for birdie on the first playoff hole to lift his 10th PGA Tour title. Relishes the conditions in England and tied fourth at St.Andrews in 2015 when gunning for the Grand Slam. He looks a good one to bet on the Open Championship. Write him off at your peril.
Odds: 14/1 (888Sport)
The 28-year-old has accumulated six top-five finishes at majors and as a result of Sergio Garcia breaking his duck at the Masters, Fowler is now arguably the best player in the world yet to win one of golf’s biggest prizes.
Proven to be adept at tackling links courses and possessing a fantastic short game, Fowler has missed the cut just once in seven Opens and is capable of producing an absurd level of golf, as testament to his round of 68 in the 2011 Open which is widely considered one of the all time greatest rounds in the only major outside of the United States.
Odds: 16/1 (Betway)
With the hoodoo now off his back, many are of the opinion that the Spaniard won’t triumph in a major again. It should not be forgotten that ‘El Nino’ is a fine links player is his own right – since 2005, he is 11 out of 12 for cuts made at the British Open and can boast seven top ten finishes. Garcia has the temperament to succeed in all conditions and he should be swinging with confidence as he aims to add the Claret Jug to his Masters triumph.
Odds: 20/1 (Betway)
The Japanese star is many people’s favourite to become his country’s first ever male champion at Birkdale and has catapulted to number two in the world. His recent second place finish at the US Open was reminiscent of the form illustrated in the latter stages of 2016 where he emerged victorious in four of five events on his home Japan Tour. In the words of NBC analyst Johnny Miller, Matsuyama is the “best player right now”. Can he deliver on his enormous potential?
Outside Bet – Padraig Harrington
Odds: 60/1 (William Hill)
The Irishman and three-time major winner returns to the scene of his 2008 triumph and looked in good nick at the Scottish Open last week, sharing the lead after day two, falling away with a third-round 79, but closing with an impressive 66. Harrington remains the last man to claim back-to-back Open titles and he will be looking to put this extensive links golf experience and expertise to good use when he tees off at 09:36.