Some of the main contenders for the Open Championship

Henrik Stenson will defend his Open Championship title at Royal Birkdale in England as the year's third major championship takes place from Thursday.

Here, we look at five possible contenders for one of golf's biggest prizes.

DUSTIN JOHNSON

Johnson's form has suffered a dip since he won three tournaments in succession earlier this season, including back-to-back World Golf Championship events, before a back injury forced him to withdraw from the Masters. Since returning to action, Johnson has finished second, 12th and 13th before missing the cut in the Memorial Tournament and the US Open.

However, the world number one has a decent record in the Open with three top-10 finishes in his last six appearances, while he also led at halfway at St Andrews in 2015 before fading over the weekend.

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA

Matsuyama's Open record is nothing to write home about, with his sole top-10 finish in four appearances coming on his debut at Muirfield in 2013. However, since missing the cut at Troon last year the world number two has gone from strength to strength, finishing fourth in the US PGA, 11th in the Masters and second in the US Open after a superb closing 66 at Erin Hills.

Away from the majors, Matsuyama has also collected five wins around the world and was 14th in the Irish Open at Portstewart.

SERGIO GARCIA

Five years after claiming he was not good enough to win a major, Garcia proved himself wrong in dramatic fashion by beating Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Rose in a play-off for the Masters at Augusta National.

Shedding the tag of 'best player not to have won a major' should do wonders for the talented Spaniard, who has 10 top-10 finishes in the Open since 2001, including the last three years in succession.

TOMMY FLEETWOOD

From 188th in the world as recently as September 2016, Fleetwood has climbed to within reach of the top 10 thanks to some brilliant performances, including victories in the Abu Dhabi Championship and HNA Open de France and fourth place in the US Open.

The 26-year-old from Southport is thrilled to have the Open Championship on his doorstep, although he does not have as much local knowledge as might be expected after revealing he had to sneak on to Royal Birkdale for a few illicit holes as a kid.

RORY McILROY

Missing the cut in defence of his Irish Open title was a huge disappointment for McIlroy, especially as the tournament benefits his own foundation. However, it could prove to be a blessing in disguise if the world number four follows through on his promise to sharpen his short game.

''It's the simple things I haven't been doing well," McIlroy said. "I can hit a five iron from 220 yards into the middle of the green, but I can't get it up and down from 30 feet." The 2014 Open champion's decision to enter the Scottish Open could also turn out to be important in an injury-hit campaign.


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