Associated Press

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.

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.

Stephen Curry to play in professional golf event

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Steph Curry is known for his ability on the hardwood, but this offseason he’s honing his skills on a different surface.

The green.

The Warriors guard and two-time NBA MVP is competing on TheWeb.com Tour in the Ellie Mae Classic on an unrestricted sponsor exemption. Curry is trying to become the first pro athlete to make the cut on the Tour and the first pro-athlete to break 70.

This isn’t Curry’s first high-profile event this year. He competed in the American Century Championship and went viral when he caught a pass from Aaron Rodgers. Curry has previously golfed with President Obama and is known for not having a handicap.

Now, history is not on Curry’s side. Previous athletes haven’t had a lot of success on the Tour, combining to go 335 OVER par on TheWeb.com Tour, so hopefully Curry will be able to reverse that trend.