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Five things to ponder as the 146th Open Championship begins

What are Rory McIlroy's chances and how Brexit has caused a change in prize-money

The 2017 Open Championship is underway at Royal Birkdale. Here are five things to get you thinking as you settle in for four days of fantastic golf.

Can Rory McIlroy contend after his injury woes?

McIlroy’s season has been thrown into disarray by the rib injury suffered during extensive club testing over the winter, which kept him sidelined for six weeks after losing a play-off in the South African Open. McIlroy finished seventh, fourth and seventh in his first three strokeplay events on his return, but a recurrence of the problem saw him withdraw from the BMW PGA Championship and Memorial Tournament. After missing the cut in the US Open he was 17th in the Travelers Championship, but then missed the cut in defence of his Irish Open title at Portstewart.

Can Stenson became the first back-to-back winner for nine years?

Padraig Harrington was the last player to successfully defend the Open title, coincidentally when it was last staged at Royal Birkdale in 2008. Stenson’s form this season has been something of a mixed bag, with five top-10 finishes and four missed cuts, two of those coming in the Masters and US Open. However, the 41-year-old Swede was third at Birkdale in 2008 after recovering from an opening 76 and, while a repeat of last year’s record-breaking feats at Royal Troon might be asking a bit much, he certainly has the talent to mount a title challenge.

Will there be a first English winner in 25 years?

While Northern Ireland has produced two Open champions in the last six years (we're not boasting - honest), and Scotland’s Paul Lawrie lifted the Claret Jug in 1999, Nick Faldo’s third victory at Muirfield in 1992 remains the last by an Englishman. The chances of that depressing statistic ending at Birkdale look good though, with 12 English players in the world’s top 100 and the likes of Tyrrell Hatton, Andrew Johnston, Andy Sullivan and Matthew Southgate all finishing in the top 12 last year.

Is a shock winner possible?

Since Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley won the last two Majors of 2011 when ranked 111th and 108th in the world respectively, the lowest-ranked winner of any Major has been Jimmy Walker, who was 48th when he won last year’s US PGA Championship. Fellow 2016 champions Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson were ranked 12th, sixth and sixth respectively, while Sergio Garcia was 11th before claiming his overdue maiden Major title at the Masters in April and Brooks Koepka 22nd before his US Open triumph at Erin Hills.

Why is the prize money in dollars this year?

Making the switch from sterling to dollars had been on the agenda since the fall in the value of the pound following the vote to leave the EU last June. Speaking in February, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said it was a ‘’significant issue’’ for the only Major staged outside of the US. The winner at Royal Birkdale will collect $1,845,000 (£1.4million) from a total prize fund of $10.25million (£7.9million), a significant increase on the £1.175million claimed by Stenson last year. Brooks Koepka won a record $2.16million (£1.67million) for his US Open victory at Erin Hills last month.

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