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(courtesy: SwingbySwing.com)

The third week of July is arguably the most important of the golfing year — depending on which side of the pond you reside. The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale for the first time since 2008 and while all eyes will be on the big names there are plenty of ancillary characters looking to make their mark on the history books over the next four days.

Like any major championship, the stakes at the Open are high — extremely high — which, from a fantasy stand point, means you’ve really got to do your homework otherwise you could be watching on Sunday without a dog in the fight.

And seriously, what kind of fun is that?

Now, not wanting to be left standing in the corner of the dance hall while everyone else is paired off and hoping to score, it’s time to outline some of the best (and worst) fantasy options on the table this week at Royal Birkdale.

Here’s a look at those who will bring their A-game and those who’ll be merely tourists by the weekend:

Players:

Jordan Spieth — Coming off a victory in his last start, Jordan Spieth is ready to take down the third leg of the career grand slam. Few players are more sturdy on the greens than Spieth which will be a must for anyone who wants to hoist the Claret Jug this week. Spieth, who already has a green jacket in his closet and his name on the U.S. Open trophy, has also played well in the Open in the past. In 2015, he missed the three-way playoff by just a stroke, ending his quest for the season grand slam. Look for Spieth to be out for blood at Birkdale.

John Rahm — If you are a numbers guy — and since you’re reading this site, I know you are — then you have to be drooling over the chances for John Rahm this week. For those who enjoy trends, the only repeat major winners since 2011, 17 of  24 major winners have been first timers. The only repeats were Rory McIlroy (4), Bubba Watson (2), Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Oh, and that includes the last seven in a row. While they’re are plenty of players capable of continuing this streak, Rahm seems to be the most likely candidate to actually do so.

Charely Hoffman — If John Rahm can’t do it, the guy I’m pulling for to is Charely Hoffman. Do I ACTUALLY think Charley Hoffman is going to win the Open? No. But he’s been playing well enough all season to warrant a start in most formats — especially in office pools and DFS formats. When he made a run at the Masters, people cheered. When he took it deep at the U.S. Open for his second career major top-10, people took notice. I think a good year could very well become a great one by Sunday afternoon for Charley Hoffman.

Zach Johnson — Already a champion golfer of the year and a two-time major winner, Zach Johnson looks to add to that trophy collection. Coming off a great week at the John Deere Classic, I expect Johnson to continue his good form in a tournament he’s played well in in the past. While his start to the season was nothing short of abysmal, he’s played decently as of late and is too good to stay down too long. Last week’s birdie fest seems to be just what the doctor ordered for ZJ.

Sergio Garcia — Many are shying away from Sergio because he’s getting married a few days after the Open, but I really don’t think that’s going to be a distraction for the Spaniard for a couple reasons. First of all, Sergio has finally kicked the monkey off his back and comes into a major as a major champion for just the second time in his career. Second, Sergio has been masterful in the Open as of late, collecting a T-6 or better in each of the last three events. Twice, he’s been a runner-up. You really don’t think Sergio wants to get married in his green jacket and toast with the Claret Jug? There’s no way Sergio leaves anything on the table at Royal Birkdale.

Justin Rose — I really never believed Justin Rose was a one-and-done major guy and I still don’t. Sure, he’s only collected two top-10 finishes in the Open, including his T-4 showing as the low amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998, but you’ve got to like the pedigree and the good vibes that surround him on property this week. Since winning the U.S. Open in 2013, Rose has been a guy who can flip a switch in majors even if his vital signs have been faint in the weeks leading up to the big ‘uns. I won’t count him out this week and neither should you.

Marc Leishman — This is my sentimental pick, but it’s still a good one. Marc Leishman is a major champion waiting to happen. Not many would necessarily agree, but the Aussie has a history of showing up in the big events and making runs. He collected a T-2 finish at St. Andrews in 2015 as part of the  three-way playoff, eventually won by Zach Johnson. On the heels of the birth of his daughter, things are looking up for Leishman who is poised for a great week at Birkdale.

Posers:

Xander Schauffele — This feels a lot like one of those picks that I just know is going to come back to kick me in the rear-end, but I’m not sold on Schauffele making his mark in a major at Royal Birkdale. While he’s shown nothing but poise, patience and unbelievable ability in the last two months with his performances at the U.S. Open and Greenbrier Classic, I just can’t fathom he wins this week. Call me crazy — I deserve it — but I don’t expect much more than a front-nine surge on Thursday from the rookie. Links golf is different, and I think Schauffele gets a crash course this week.

Bubba Watson — Every week I mention it and every week I scroll through DFS sites and see that people are still putting Bubba Watson in their lineups. At this point, it’s purely a name recognition thing, right? Keep in mind, this is the one major that Watson is sans a top-5 finish. In fact, he’s never finished better than T-23 and has missed nearly half his cuts in the Open. Links and Bubba don’t mix on years he’s striping it, let alone when he’s struggling.

Rickie Fowler — I know, I know — I’m waffling here. I’ve said it’s time for Rickie Fowler to get off the schnide and win a major. And I know he’s proven to be a tremendous links player who is willing to adapt to the environment he’s in and play well. I know that. However, there’s something about him that is Sergio-esque. And for that reason, I’m not ready to crown him a major champion yet. I’m not saying that Fowler will play into his 40’s without joining the club — I just don’t think it’s going to happen this weekend.

Rory McIlroy — As a Rory McIroy apologist, this pains me greatly to bury ol’ Rors this far down the list this week. I really don’t think I have another option though, right? Sure, McIlroy is a former champion golfer of the year and arguably the best talent on the planet — but his play as of late has left much to be desired in the fantasy world. As much as I want to take him, I’m punting on Rory this week — and you should, too.

John Daly — Fine. I’ve learned my lesson. Not gonna even think about it.

Bryson DeChambeau — Last week’s winner and the Tour’s next big thing is a prodigy who will someday win majors — just don’t believe the hype heading into this week. It’s been a long time since someone not named Phil Mickelson has won the week before a major then taken down the big title, too. Don’t expect DeChambeau to do too much this week.

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