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2017 Open Championship Preview

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It’s the oldest major in golf and the most recognizable trophy in the sport.  It’s a course next to the Irish Sea whose defining characteristic – the weather – can change by the hour. It’s a field that includes some of the most accomplished golfers in the world. 

The 146th Open Championship returns to NBC Sports this week with coverage from Thursday to Sunday on the Golf Channel and NBC.

WATCH: First round of The Open (Thursday at 1 a.m. ET on Golf Channel)

For those hoping to raise the Claret Jug in 2017, the Open arrives at an interesting time. Would-be favorites such as Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are mired in slumps, while the list of contenders includes breakout stars like U.S. Open-winner Brooks Koepka, and Tommy Fleetwood who is playing on his home course at Royal Birkdale.

The course could provide some of the most enduring memories for the 2017 Open, with the forecast calling for rain and wind throughout the weekend. Royal Birkdale has a reputation for extreme weather. Arnold Palmer’s Open-victory in 1961 is of course remembered for torrential rain. His unbelievable recovery shot from a thicket is still marked by a plaque on the 16th hole.  Later trips to Royal Birkdale included brush fires in 1976 and turbulent winds that challenged golfers in 1998.

Think of it as an 18-hole microcosm of what the Open Championship is all about.

Searching for glory between the raindrops will be defending champion Henrik Stenson, who held off Phil Mickelson to win at Royal Troon in 2016. They’re just a few of the veterans who could thrive at the Open, which has traditionally been the friendliest major to older players.

There should be several interesting pairings to keep an eye on during the first two days of the tournament, including Stenson and Jordan Spieth going off together on Thursday and Friday. Another star-studded trio includes world number one Dustin Johnson alongside McIlroy and Charl Schwartzel.

First round coverage of the 2017 Open Championship begins Thursday at midnight on the Golf Channel and continues over the weekend on NBC.

Five Open Favorites to Watch:

Dustin Johnson – The world number one is looking to win his second major after withdrawing from The Masters and missing the cut at the U.S. Open last month.

Rory McIlroy – Despite a run of poor form, McIlory has dominated these difficult links courses before, with an Open Championship win in 2014 and top five finish at Royal Troon in 2016.

Jordan Spieth– His Travelers Championship victory reintroduced Spieth to the casual fan, but he’s made the cut at his last four Open Championships and is a favorite again in 2017.

Sergio Garcia– The Masters winner is getting married next week, but would love to add some hardware at Royal Birkdale first. He’s looking for his 11th career top ten finish at the Open Championship.

Rickie Fowler– While Fowler has a made a career of performing well in majors without winning, he’s coming off a top-five U.S. Open finish at Erin Hills and has a real shot at the Claret Jug.

Jordan Spieth betting favorite heading into the TOUR Championship

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It is mathematically possible for Jordan Spieth to capture the FedExCup title – and the $10-million bonus – without winning the TOUR Championship. Perhaps that might be a prod to look beyond laying chalk for the PGA Tour playoffs’ finale.

Spieth, who’s first in the FedExCup standings, is listed as a +500 betting favorite to win the TOUR Championship, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Like Spieth, four others in the 30-man field converging on the 7,385-yard par-70 layout at East Lake in Atlanta would win the FedExCup automatically by winning the tournament. That includes (in order of seeding, not price), Justin Thomas (+1100), Dustin Johnson (+750), Mark Leishman (+1800) and Jon Rahm (+1200).

Spieth’s average finish since June has been 7.7, so it’s a safe bet he’ll continue his strong play. But a situation could arise where, if none of the other top five seeds are in contention, he might focus on the Cup and not the tournament itself, which has a slightly smaller payout of $8.8 million.

Johnson has been outside the top 15 in his last two starts, so it might be best to fade him. Leishman (+1800) is coming in hot after his five-shot win in the BMW Championship, but do remember this will be just his second time in the event. If you’re basing your pick on recent performance, Rahm has three top-5 finishes in a row and is in the top 20 on tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green, which is a good quality on a long par-70 such as East Lake.

The highest price of any player outside of those top five seeds belongs to Rickie Fowler (+1000). He was 10th at this event in 2015, the last time he played in it, and he’s second on the entire Tour in strokes gained.

Likewise, Justin Rose (+1200) has two second-place finishes at the TOUR Championship in the last four years.

Incidentally, Hideki Matsuyama (+1800) is ninth in the approach-the-green stat, which might make him a wild card this weekend even though his results have been inauspicious of late. Another darkhorse play with an enticing price on the golf betting lines is Matt Kuchar, who has had three top-10 finishes in the last four tournaments and is very steady, a handy trait to have at a par-70 course.

Each of the past seven FedExCup champions has secured it by winning the TOUR Championship. The law of averages would indicate that streak might end sooner rather than later.

PGA Championship Odds: McIlroy, Fowler coming in hot for Quail Hollow

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The combo of a soggy course and a season-long trend of first-time winners could come into play at the PGA championship this week at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Two-time winner Rory McIlroy is the +700 favorite on the odds to win the PGA Championship at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Jordan Spieth (+800), who’s less than a month removed from his British Open victory, is a close second favorite, with WGC-Bridgestone Invitational winner Hideki Matsuyama (+1100), world No. 1 Dustin Johnson (+1200) and Rickie Fowler (+1600) also high on the board.

Quail Hollow is a fixture on the PGA Tour, hosting the Wells Fargo Championship each May. The course has had an aggressive renovation to get it “major ready.” Rain is also expected for all four days, which could create an advantage for long hitters who don’t need a huge roll from tee shots. A course also plays differently in the summer than it does in the spring.

Playing the chalk is justifiable. McIlroy has two Tour victories on this course and had a strong fifth at the Bridgestone last weekend at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. However the course renovations factor into scoring, he’s still been dominant at Quail Hollow. It’s probably reasonable to fade Spieth, given his wonky putting last weekend. It’s just tough to win two majors in a row.

Among the players with odds in the 10/1 to 20/1 range, Dustin Johnson has simply been too inconsistent to inspire much confidence. Fowler will be playing at the course where he got his first Tour victory and he’s playing well, as evidenced by successive 67s at the Bridgestone. He’s also third in the Tour’s total driving stat, which suggests his strengths are suited to Quail Hollow.

Similar things can be said about Matsuyama, who like Fowler is still in search of his first major championship. The 25-year-old Japanese standout won the Bridgestone in a showing that was a testament to his burgeoning talent, and he’s also 12th in driving accuracy.

If the weather is as wet as promised, it plays to the advantage of Brooks Koepka (+2500), the U.S. Open champion who is sixth in driving distance this season. Koepka’s top-10 finish at the British Open indicates that he is not some big-driving one-hit wonder.

The value pick might well be Daniel Berger (+5500), who has three top-five finishes and a win in his last six tournaments. Berger was also in the top 20 at the 2016 Wells Fargo tourney at Quail Hollow. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson (+6600) also has a high price that belies that he was runner-up at the Bridgestone last weekend.

Jimmy Walker, the defending champion, is listed at +10000, only slightly below the +12500 price he had at online gambling sites prior to his unexpected victory in 2016.

This will be the second-last PGA Championship held in August; starting in 2019, it will move to May and become the second major on the golf calendar.