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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

British Open: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and three other golfers who could win a first major

The past seven majors have been won by a first-time major winner. Here are five of the leading contenders to maintain that run at Royal Birkdale this week

USA's Rickie Fowler during practice day three of The Open Championship 2017 at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport. Press Association
USA's Rickie Fowler during practice day three of The Open Championship 2017 at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport. Press Association

The past seven majors have been won by a first-time major winner. Here are five of the leading contenders to maintain that run at Royal Birkdale this week.

Rickie Fowler

For some time now expected to join friends Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson as major winners, the American is considered one of the best players thus far without a big-four title. Fowler, 28, finished second twice in majors in 2014, including the British Open, together with a third and a fifth, but then struggled somewhat in those events before a tied-11th at the Masters this year and tied-fifth at the US Open. In between then and now, Fowler was third at the Quicken Loans National and tied-ninth at the Scottish Open. Proof, again, that he loves links golf. Consistency, though, is key.

Spain's Jon Rahm hist a tee shot at Royal Birkdale. Dave Thompson / AP Photo
Spain's Jon Rahm hist a tee shot at Royal Birkdale. Dave Thompson / AP Photo

Jon Rahm

If Fowler has been around for a while now, Rahm has only really just arrived. But, boy, how he has done. The Spaniard joined the winner’s circle in January, triumphing at the Farmers Insurance Open, then finished tied-third at his first World Championship Golf outing and runner-up at his second. This month, he proved his liking for links with a superb six-shot victory at the Irish Open. As such, Rahm has risen to No 7 in the world rankings little more than a year after turning pro. Temperament can be questionable, and he makes his British Open debut, but a major title should not be long coming.

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama during a practice round. Paul Childs / Reuters
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama during a practice round. Paul Childs / Reuters

Hideki Matsuyama

At No 2 in the world rankings, Matsuyama seems a major-champion-in-waiting. This season, he has finished tied-11th at the Masters and then runner-up at last month’s US Open. And don’t forget, he was tied-fourth at the US PGA Championship last summer, also. Links golf appears no problem for the Japanese, either, if his sixth-place finish on debut at the 2013 British Open is anything to go by. There, he was penalised – rather harshly – for slow play. What’s more, earlier this month, Matsuyama was tied-15th in Northern Ireland. Deadly off the tee and unerringly accurate with his irons, he simply needs his putter to work.

Also read:

John McAuley: Five memorable moments from Royal Birkdale

John McAuley: Five talking points ahead of the British Open

Tee times: Rounds 1 and 2 times and UAE TV schedule

England's Tommy Fleetwood during practice round. Stephen Munday / Press Association
England's Tommy Fleetwood during practice round. Stephen Munday / Press Association

Tommy Fleetwood

Two victories this season, both against significantly deep fields; runner-up at a World Golf Championship in March; four top-10s in his past four events, including fourth at last month’s US Open; Race to Dubai leader, so officially Europe’s hottest golfer at the moment. Oh, and he grew up not far from Birkdale and used to sneak onto the course back in the day. Little wonder Fleetwood goes into this week as one of the favourites. Granted, there were three consecutive missed cuts in this event, and the pressure as local hero will be intense, but the Englishman is an infinitely better golfer now.

Branden Grace of South Africa. Gregory Shamus / Getty Images
Branden Grace of South Africa. Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

Branden Grace

A proven links golfer, the South African may not have the profile of the others listed, but he has the game to go well at Birkdale. Just look at Grace’s CV: victories at Fancourt Links (twice), the Qatar Masters (twice) and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – all wins earned in the wind. Has shown major form in the past, too, finishing tied-fourth at the 2015 US Open and third at the 2015 US PGA Championship. Last year, Grace was tied-fifth and tied-third at those two events, respectively. Admittedly, his British Open record isn’t great – tied-20th in 2015 his best – but is coming off a decent week in Scotland.