The major season is halfway over, and this time next week, after The Open Championship is all wrapped up, we will be 75 percent done with just one major until the 2018 Masters. But first, Royal Birkdale will host its first Open since 2008 and just its second this century. The last one was won by Padraig Harrington who is (improbably) a contender again.

Every major has great storylines going in, but which are the easiest to root for this week? Who should the casual golf fan who maybe only watches on Sundays or only tunes into the major championships be pulling for this week at Royal Birkdale? I have some names of legitimate contenders for you to look at. We’re exlcuding the obvious ones like Mark O’Meara winning in what will probably be his last Open because, let’s be honest, Mark O’Meara has no chance of winning this week.

So here are nine golfers with a real chance to win and why they’re going to be so easy to root for in Southport, England, this weekend.

1. Rickie Fowler: The American is still looking for his first major, and this might be his best chance to grab it. Fowler finshed in the top 10 at the U.S. Open in June and played great last week at the Scottish Open. He’s likable, thrilling to watch and tough as haggis in bad weather. He’ll be a fan favorite on both sides of the pond this week.

2. Lee Westwood: Poor Westwood is nearing his 80th major start without ever notching a single win. This week’s would be particularly savory coming in his home country of England. He has contended so many times here over the years (three top-three finishes since 2009), it would be incredible if he could finally get it done at age 44.

3. Tommy Fleetwood: His story is almost too easy. Fleetwood grew up in Southport, is playing the best golf of his life and is coming off a win at the French Open. Can you imagine the emotion of winning an Open that close to your hometown? That’s the dream for every golf-playing child in the United Kingdom.

“It’s obviously going to be an amazing experience support-wise,” said Fleetwood. “I think looking at it and people wishing me good luck and people talking about it, it’s going to be an experience that I’ve never had in my life. I think very few people get the chance to have a home crowd that’s massively in your favor and play a tournament where, however many people will be watching me, will all want me to do well.

“So I mean, good or bad, whatever the draw is, however I play, it’s going to be an experience that I’ll never forget just for the sheer support I think that I’m going to have, which is exciting in itself to look forward to.”

4. Sergio Garcia: The Spaniard has come up close at this event so many times, it’s incredible (even for him). He has an incredible 10 top-10 finishes, including each of the last three years. The Masters was massive for him, but you get the feeling an Open would mean even more. As we’ve gone over innumerable times, Garcia has gone from being a petulant, sometimes-unlikable kid to a tragic hero as an adult. He’s actually fun to root for now. 

5. Jordan Spieth: The 23-year-old comes into this event off one of the great shots of his career at the Travelers Championship. For those looking for a Tiger Woods replacement on the American side of things, Spieth is your best bet (although he won’t come close to touching Tiger’s career). But for him to get three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam at this age would be pretty amazing.

6. Rory McIlroy: The Ulsterman has missed three of four cuts, but he can still make history this week at Royal Birkdale. His sits T20 all-time with four major championships in his collection. He can move to T14 with a win this week and join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones as the only golfers with five of them before age 30. Greatness is fun to root for, especially when it’s wrapped in a dynamic personality like McIlroy’s.

7. Matt Kuchar: After a solid Scottish Open, Kuchar returns to a tournament where he only has one top 10 ever. Kuchar is as likable as professional athletes get, though, and it would be spectacular to see him get major No. 1 this week at Birkdale. Especially if he dropped some language in the process.

8. Justin Rose: Another Englishman returns to the site of his first Open start way back in 1998 as a 17-year-old. Rose once said he thought he was going to win the Open that week as a teenage amateur. It would be some nice symmetry if he was actually able to do so two decades later as one of the most accomplished Englishmen of his generation. 

9. Padraig Harrington: The Irishman is the defending champ here; he’s also coming off neck surgery and played great at the Scottish Open last week. For him to win this week and get major No. 4 after a season of injuries and a constantly-tinkered-with swing would be spectacular. His would be an easy bandwagon to hop on this weekend if he’s in the thick of it.


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