A punter's guide to The Open: The best bets at Royal Birkdale
The last seven Majors have gone to first-time winners, so how do you pick a victor at Southport?
This year's Open at Royal Birkdale, Southport, looks like being one of the most unpredictable for years, with no clear favourite and the dominance of the so-called "big three" now a thing of the past.
Each of the past seven Majors has been won by a first-time winner and it is very possible that another unexpected name will come through the field this weekend.
The last time someone added to their account rather than opened it was at The Open in 2015, when 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson notched up another success by winning the Claret Jug at a windy St Andrews.
Since then, Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka have claimed the various Majors - and it's all too much for Oliver Brown of the Daily Telegraph.
"Trying to pick a winner at Royal Birkdale this week is as futile as counting grains of sand," he writes. "The days when [Tiger] Woods could, like Roger Federer, be counted upon to pulverise his opponents by force of aura alone have passed.
"In his place is a legion of prospective successors, vying for prominence in the most even field in years."
But who says counting sand is futile? Here are The Week's tips for this year's tournament.
Jordan Spieth: 16-1
The American has not won a Major since 2015, but has been installed as favourite for The Open, albeit at pretty favourable odds.
Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson are available on similar odds, but Spieth has "by some distance the most appeal of the trio", says Ben Coley of Sporting Life.
"It's a shame he hasn't deemed it necessary to play a links warm-up in either Ireland or Scotland, which all bar one champion dating back to Darren Clarke in 2011 has done, but this two-time major winner knows full well what he's doing and will be ready to go on Thursday."
His form has been "patchy", warns Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail."But the two-time major winner has still claimed two titles, the last one after holing a bunker shot, so he won't be lacking confidence."
Spieth's putting is excellent and he will love the Birkdale greens; the question is: can his driving get him there?
Rickie Fowler: 16-1
Not everyone agrees Fowler is a bad bet for the title. "He's a great long iron driver, and he'll stand tall if the weather gets sideways," says Kyle Porter of CBS. A win is by no means guaranteed, but the 28-year-old "has the best chance of his career to get his first major championship".
David DeNunzio and Marika Washchyshyn of Golf agree. "He will take his Erin Hills Sunday stumble as motivation to finally get the job done, and is a great wind and rainy weather player," says Washchyshyn.
And his stats - he currently has the lowest scoring average on the tour - show he is "firing on all cylinders", adds DeNunzio.
Hideki Matsuyama: 25-1
Sporting Life tipster Ben Coley's second pick for The Open is Matsuyama, although he advises an each-way option.
"The Japanese superstar is ranked second in the world to [Dustin] Johnson, yet he sits eighth in the betting here, despite having produced some of the best major golf of the year with 11th at Augusta followed by second in the US Open, while his final major performance of 2016 (T4) could've been so much more for any kind of cooperation from the putter," he says.
Matsuyama's putting can be a weakness, but "as one of the most reliable drivers in world golf, there's every hope that he can keep out of trouble and allow his deadly iron play to pick apart the golf course".
He "looks ready to take the next step now and win a major", agrees Derek Lawrenson of the Mail.
Sergio Garcia: 20-1
According to Neil McLeman of the Daily Mirror, "the value out there is in looking for proven winners who will contend this week" - and that includes Garcia, who finally won a Major earlier this year.
"His Masters triumph should now free him up to be a contender in every Major," McLeman says. The Spaniard, who gets married after the tournament, almost won the 2007 Open "and has always expressed his love for links golf".
Garcia also has ten top-ten finishes since 2001, including three in the past three tournaments, and will no longer feel the nerves if he is in contention on Sunday.
"Now that Sergio has finally slipped on that green jacket and got the monkey off his back, he can go on to become a multiple major winner with Birkdale the obvious starting point," says Ben Cleminson of City AM.
Tommy Fleetwood: 25-1
Who wouldn't be tempted to have a flutter on the local boy done good?
The 26-year-old is in "fantastic" form, says Lawrenson of the Mail. "Two wins and two close shaves at a WGC and the US Open helped the Southport man rise from 100th at the start of the year to 14th in the rankings."
He has proved himself to be a fine striker of the ball and with the crowd firmly behind him, Royal Birkdale could prove to be a happy hunting ground.
"The story here is almost too good to be true," says Kyle Porter of CBS. "But I think Fleetwood is in such a zone right now that it might not even matter."
Even if his dreams don't come true on Sunday, he is a fast starter and will be at home on the course, so City AM recommends backing Fleetwood to lead after the first round, at 40-1.
Patrick Reed: 80-1
With such an open field, it makes sense to back at least one outsider and the American could shine at Royal Birkdale.
The 26-year-old "has been simmering all year and is too talented to be Majorless much longer", says Jeff Ritter of Golf.
Reed is also backed as one of the top ten to watch this weekend by Michael Collins of ESPN.
"Even though he missed the cut last week at the Scottish Open, his time spent adjusting to the climate and time zone will pay off," he says.