Many a baseball lineup feature its best player batting third. Hitting third in the order of Golf’s Major Championships is The Open and it too is considered the very best by many.

It hardly seems that it has been a year now since we witnessed the greatest golf duel in history when Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson went at it last year at Royal Troon. The buzz of that heavyweight exchange of body blows in the form of golf shots has lingered on and yet here we are again, mid-July and into the week of The 2017 Open Championship, our 3rd Major of the golf season.

The 146th playing of The Open, or The British Open as many Americans call it, will take place at Royal Birkdale. This will be the 10th time that Birkdale has hosted an Open Championship with the last two coming in 1998 (Mark O’Meara) and 2008 (Padraig Harrington). Birkdale is a very strong links design and can be a beast of a course, with sand dunes standing tall and framing much of the layout. Bunker placement is tremendous and it will take an extremely skilled player to avoid them all week. The fairways and greens are relatively flat but this course has plenty of teeth as many have called it the most fare yet stiffest test in The Open rota – and inclement weather can turn it on its head in a moment’s notice. It will take everything in a player’s bag and then some to come out victorious this week.

Stenson came out on top in last year’s epic battle, with a winning score of 20-under par. Zach Johnson won at St. Andrews the year before at 15-under and in 2014, Rory McIlroy came away a winner at Hoylake with a score of 17-under par. I don’t believe we are going to see the same this year at Royal Birkdale. Harrington’s winning score in 2008 was +3 and O’Meara in 1998 won in a playoff after finishing at Even Par for the championship. Steady wind looks to be a part of the landscape this week in Southport, England and we’ll likely see some rain here and there too.

Expect it to be a special player that emerges with The Claret Jug on Sunday. It is a list of Hall of Fame caliber when you look at who has won at Royal Birkdale in the past. Peter Thomson (twice), Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Ian Baker-Finch, and the aforementioned O’Meara and Harrington.

The Favorites

Dustin Johnson (12-1) After a spill down the stairs the day before The Masters, Johnson went from being an extremely hot player to one that has gone cold as of late. His Open record is impressive with three Top 10 finishes but he has missed the cut in his last two starts, The Memorial and The U.S. Open last month.

Jordan Spieth (12-1) This just may be the course for a controlled shot maker like Jordan Spieth. He won The Travelers nearly a month ago but we have not seen him in action since. Other than a 4th place at St. Andrews in 2015, Spieth has never finished better than 30th at an Open Championship.

Rickie Fowler (15-1) Rickie continues to knock on the door in seemingly every Major but when will he be able to kick the door in? Two Top 5’s in The Open, 11th this year at The Masters and 5th at The U.S. Open. His time will come but will it be this week?

The Contenders

Jon Rahm (15-1) The young Spaniard got a jump on things, heading overseas two weeks ago to win The Irish Open. He’s vaulted all the way to number 8 in the world but this is only his second time playing a British Open. He took 59th last year at Troon.

Justin Rose (20-1) Justin Rose burst onto the golf scene back in 1998 at Royal Birkdale, taking 4th place as an amateur. Oddly enough, the Englishman has never done too much since at the only Major played outside of The United States. He lost in a playoff at The Masters this year and was cut at The U.S. Open.

Hideki Matsuyama (20-1) Don’t look now but Hideki Matsuyama has surged to the number 2 ranked player in the world. Wow. This guy can play tee to green with anybody and despite a fairly average record in The Open Championship, he did finish 11th at The Masters this year and 2nd at The U.S. Open.

The Long Shots

Padraig Harrington (65-1) Of course it was 2008 when Paddy took top honors here and in that he defended his title, winning the year prior as well at Carnoustie. No doubt he knows how to play an Open and he’s coming off of a 4th place finish at The Scottish Open played last week.

Shane Lowry (75-1) Another Irishman who has shown some style in Major Championships, Lowry finished 9th in 2014 at Hoylake and took 2nd in The U.S. Open last year at Oakmont. He’s coming off of a 20th place finish two weeks ago in The Irish Open and is an excellent wind player.

Ian Poulter (85-1) Poulter has missed the cut in his last two Opens, 2015 and 2014 but prior to that he recorded two Top 10’s and it was here at Birkdale in 2008 that he finished 2nd to Harrington. He also just tied for 9th at The Scottish Open last week.

The Pick

Sergio Garcia (15-1) I did not expect Sergio Garcia to win The Masters this year but actually it was in my golf season preview article that I picked him to win here, this week at Royal Birkdale, so I’m going to stick with it. Like Mark O’Meara did in 1998, at this golf course, Sergio would become the first player to take both The Masters and The Open in the same season since Tiger Woods did in 2005. His game is tremendous right now, having just finished 2nd at The BMW and 21st at The U.S. Open – and The Open has always been his best Major of which he’s finished in the Top 10 ten times. Continuing with the theme of The Spaniard, Jon Rahm in Ireland, Rafa Cabrera-Bello last week in Scotland.. this week Sergio Garcia becomes The Champion Golfer of The Year.

Join Brady Kannon for The 146th Open Championship right HERE!