2017 Open Championship Preview

Associated Press
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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.