British Open 2017: Ranking the 20 golfers most likely to win at Royal Birkdale

The 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale presents a different challenge than most of these golfers face from week to week. Links golf is so wildly different from the point-and-shoot variety on the PGA Tour that sometimes it doesn't even feel like the same sport.

And yet, the same culprits the PGA Tour produces seem to emerge year after year in contention for the Claret Jug. The only caveat this week is that older golfers are far more likely to contend for this championship than for, say, the PGA Championship or U.S. Open.

With that in mind, let's look at the 20 most likely candidates to win this year's Open.

1. Jordan Spieth (Best finish -- T4 in 2015): He's not my pick, but I keep coming back to Spieth this week because of how tough he is to close out and how well he's been playing of late. He doesn't need his best stuff to win this tournament. 

2. Adam Scott (2nd in 2012): Probably not who you expected to see here, but Scott has finished in the top 10 at this tournament a ridiculous four times in the last five years including his heartbreaking miss at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in 2012. He's also had a quietly solid season in 2017.

3. Rickie Fowler (T2 in 2014): It all adds up for me with Fowler. The near misses. The world-class year so far. The bouts of elite driving. The quality performance at the Scottish Open. The low ball flight. The even temperament. I'm going all in on Fowler getting his first at Birkdale.

4. Sergio Garcia (2nd in 2007): How great would it be if Garcia won the Masters and the Open in the same year after nearly two decades of futility? He's second to only Scott in the last five years with three top 10s, and they have come in each of the last three years. He was lights out for most of the U.S. Open as well.

5. Phil Mickelson (Win in 2013): Wait, Phil Mickelson?! He hasn't won any tournament since he won the Open in 2013, right? That's right, but he's finished in the top two twice in four years at this tournament and has played really solid golf up and down this season. Also, he's insane and awesome.

6. Dustin Johnson (T2 in 2011): I'm only putting him here out of obligation and because, well, he's the No. 1 player in the world. D.J. just hasn't been the same player since he came back from his back injury at the Masters, but his talent is so overwhelming that you could play any tournament anywhere in the world with any type of clubs and balls and he would likely be the frontrunner. I'm just glad him and his caddie and brother Austin didn't have to face the Scottish Open math flags last week.

7. Henrik Stenson (Win in 2016): The Big Swede has sort of lamented not having a better last year and discussed how difficult it has been to focus with all of his obligations. He said this week is a reset button of sorts, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him contend like he did in both 2013 and 2016. I trust him more at this major than any of the other three. Also, there's this. 

8. Rory McIlroy (Win in 2014): Much like D.J., I feel an obligation to him here because of the pedigree. For as much as we talk about how links golf doesn't necessarily fit his game, McIlroy has had two top fives in the last three years at this tournament. He seems like he's wandering a bit right now, but he can snap out of that at any moment. Look back at 2014: He missed the cut at the Irish Open, shot a 78 at the Scottish Open and went on to win three straight events including two majors. I don't want to be on the wrong side of that prediction. 

9. Justin Rose (T4 in 1998): Rose's best finish ever at this tournament remains that T4 he had in 1998 as an amateur at Royal Birkdale. I trust Rose's game more than most, though, and I think he has a real opportunity to rekindle some of that magical week from 1998 in which he nearly accomplished the unthinkable. 

10. Marc Leishman (T2 in 2015): The big game hunter! Leishman also has two top fives in the last five years at this tournament and lost in a playoff in 2015 to Zach Johnson at St. Andrews. Leishman seems to always pop at the big boy events, and he's been inside the top 35 at every event since he was cut at the Players Championship in May.

11. Tommy Fleetwood (MC): I think the moment is probably going to be a little bit too big for Fleetwood given that he's trying to win in his hometown of Southport. Still, his golf has been outrageous over the last month. After contending at the U.S. Open, he played great in Germany and Ireland and won the French Open. Zero surprises if he's the 36- or 54-hole leader.

12. Jon Rahm (T59 in 2016): I'm not feeling it with Rahm this week. Yes, he had a preposterously good tune-up at the Irish Open where he reached 25 under (an embarrassment to let a Greater Milwaukee Open break out at Portstewart!) but I worry about how the weather will affect him this week. There was so little wind and rain in Northern Ireland that he was able to use that high ball flight to his advantage. I'm afraid the same will not be true at Birkdale.

13. Brooks Koepka (T10 in 2015): We haven't seen the most recent major winner since his most recent major conquest. If he drives it like he did at Erin Hills, he could legitimately win his second straight major this week. At Erin, he hit 49-of-56 fairways (!) off the tee (albeit immense fairways). I think the winner at Birkdale this week will have similar numbers. 

14. Louis Oosthuizen (Win in 2010): Oosthuizen is such an enigma. He has that win from 2010 and a T2 in 2015 (both at St. Andrews), but those two performances are filled out by a bunch of MCs, WDs and lackluster performances. All or nothing for the South African, but his "all" is outrageously good.

15. Hideki Matsuyama (T6 in 2013): I'm feeling a Matsuyama major more at Augusta or a U.S. Open than I am at an Open Championship, but Matsuyama is another uber-talent that I'm scared to not pick. The key for him (and most players this week) will be finding fairways.

16. Jason Day (T4 in 2015): Day just hasn't had the year everybody expected. There have been myriad reasons for that, and he will have a lot of opportunities to get back on track down the stretch, but an Open doesn't seem like the place for him (and his insanely high ball flight) to do it. Only has one top 20 ever at this tournament.

17. Thomas Pieters (T30 in 2016): It's so easy to see him winning multiple major championships, isn't it? Pieters played well at the French Open but not at the Irish Open where he missed the cut. He has a long way to go in terms of fixing his misses and making sure he plays weekends, but if he's on, it could be showtime at Birkdale.

18. Justin Thomas (T53 in 2016): I respect Thomas' talent too much to leave him off this list, but it seems like he's built more for PGA Championships or even Augusta. I do like the fact that he's going to be rocking a tie this week, though.

19. Zach Johnson (Win in 2015): Know who's tied with Garcia for second most top 10s in the last five years? How about Zach Johnson, who finished T9 in 2012, T6 in 2013, won in 2015 and even finished T12 last season. That might shock you, but Zach has been the best "Johnson" at Opens of late. 

20. Lee Westwood (2nd in 2010): This is a homer pick more than anything because I would love to see Westwood, at 44, win his first major championship. He has four top fives here in his career but none in three years. Can the Englishman conjure up some magic in his home country? I hope so.

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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