HOYLAKE, England -- Rory McIlroy won a Claret Jug the last time the Open Championship was played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, in 2014.
Three weeks later, McIlroy, then 25, won his fourth major at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. It seemed like he would just keep piling up major championship trophies.
McIlroy, now 34, hasn't won one since.
He'll try to end a nearly nine-year drought without a major championship victory when The Open returns to Royal Liverpool Golf Club this week. The Northern Irishman was already a heavy betting favorite to win, and now the expectations surrounding him will only be higher after he carded birdies on the final two holes to win the Genesis Scottish Open on Sunday.
McIlroy became the first player to win the Open Championship, Scottish Open and Irish Open. He also climbed to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
"It's nice to have the validation," McIlroy said Sunday. "It's great racking up top-5s, top-10s, but it's much nicer heading away with a trophy on Sunday afternoon. It's a great shot of confidence.
"Having something fresh in my memory if I hopefully find myself in a similar position next week where I've got a chance to win with nine holes to go, I can certainly draw on what I did here today -- that I can get myself in the mix again."
Here are the players to watch, from the guys who can win to amateurs, at Royal Liverpool Golf Club this week:
Tier I: The guys who can win
Here are the legitimate contenders to win The Open. They have the games, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds in potential rainy and windy conditions.
The storyline has become as worn as a Beatles LP in nearby Liverpool: McIlroy will try to end his long drought without a major title. McIlroy was set to arrive on the course Monday. He hasn't played Royal Liverpool since he last won there. The revamped course won't look the same.
Rahm will attempt to become the first Spanish golfer to lift the Claret Jug since his hero, Seve Ballesteros, won his third in 1988. Rahm's track record in The Open isn't great, with just one top-10 finish in six starts, but he did win the Irish Open twice.
The Australian golfer will try to become the first back-to-back Open Championship winner since Padraig Harrington finished first at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland in 2007 and Royal Birkdale in England in 2008. Smith picked up his second LIV Golf League victory outside London on July 9.
Scheffler doesn't have as much experience on links courses as many other players in the field, but he always seems to be in the mix at majors. He has nine top-10s in 13 starts in majors, including a tie for eighth at Royal St. George's in England in 2021. He tied for third at the Scottish Open.
The LIV Golf League star won his fifth major championship at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, in May. He still needs a green jacket at Augusta and a Claret Jug to complete the career grand slam. Koepka has four top-10s in eight Open Championship starts, including a tie for fourth at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland in 2019.
Given his prowess in major championships -- 18 top-25 finishes in 25 starts, including two runners-up and a pair of thirds -- Schauffele carries the burden of being the best player in the world who hasn't yet won one. It seems to only be a matter of time. Outside of a runner-up at Carnoustie in 2018, his performance at The Open hasn't been as good as in the other three majors.
The ultra-talented Norwegian golfer seemed to turn the corner in majors with a tie for fourth last year in The Open at St. Andrews in Scotland. He followed that by tying for seventh at the Masters in April and tying for second at the PGA Championship then finishing 19th at the U.S. Open -- even though he didn't care for Los Angeles Country Club very much. His short game is always a concern, but at least he can putt from off the green on links courses.
After struggling on golf's biggest stages early in his career, Cantlay seemed to see the light over the past two seasons. He has finished tied for 14th or better in each of his past five starts in majors, including a tie for eighth at St. Andrews a year ago. Having caddie Joe LaCava on his bag will only help this week.
Fowler completed his remarkable resurgence by winning for the first time in more than four years when he won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in a playoff on July 2. He tied for third in The Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014, a season in which he finished in the top five in each of the four majors.
The English golfer has played well over the past couple of months, losing in a playoff at the RBC Canadian Open and tying for fifth at the U.S. Open. He had top-five finishes in two of his past four Open starts, including a tie for fourth at St. Andrews last year.
Lowry, from Ireland, always seems to perform well when it's raining and the wind is blowing, so he'll feel right at home at Royal Liverpool. The 2019 Open Championship winner has endured an up-and-down season, but his game seems to be peaking at the right time to contend for a second Claret Jug.
The 2021 Open Championship winner seemed to be searching for his form for much of the past two seasons, but there have been signs of him breaking through. He tied for 14th at the U.S. Open and lost in a playoff to Fowler at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.
Spieth, who won The Open in 2017, has back-to-back top-10s in the event after tying for eighth at St. Andrews last year. He missed the cut at the Scottish Open, his fourth missed cut in his past six starts.
The English golfer has been ranked among the top 50 players in the world for a while, but his performance in majors has left a little to be desired with five top-10s in 33 starts. He has done well on true links courses, tying for fifth at St. Andrews in 2015 and sixth at Royal Portrush in 2019.
DJ's tie for 10th at the U.S. Open proved he isn't just fishing all the time and counting his money. He has five top-10s in The Open, including top-10s in the past two: a tie for eighth at Royal St. George's in 2021 and for sixth at St. Andrews last year. He carded a 7-under 65 in the second round at Royal Liverpool in 2014.
The reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year has endured a bit of a sophomore slump with only four top-10s in 18 starts this season. He tied for seventh at the Masters, but he then missed the cut at the PGA Championship and tied for 32nd at the U.S. Open. Last year, Young carded a 65 on Sunday at St. Andrews and lost to Smith by 1 stroke.
Finau has won five times on the PGA Tour since August 2021, but his record in majors has slid over the past two seasons. After posting six top-10s from 2019 to 2021, he doesn't have one in the past two seasons. In fact, Finau hasn't finished in the top 25 in each of the past seven.
The 2021 U.S. Open champion won eight times on the DP World Tour, but for whatever reason, he hasn't fared well in The Open. He hasn't yet posted a top-10 in seven starts, but he did finish tied for 26th or better in each of the past three. His younger brother, Alex, is also in the field this week.
Tier II: If everything goes right
Here are the sleeper candidates to lift the Claret Jug. The list includes past major champions, rising stars and other players whose games have been works in progress so far this season. Will it all come together this week?
DeChambeau is still hitting it very far off the tee, which won't be much of a requirement to contend this week. He has seen good results in majors lately with a tie for eighth at St. Andrews, for fourth at the PGA Championship and for 20th at the U.S. Open.
Rose's resurgence at age 42 has probably been enough to put him back on the European Ryder Cup team after he was left off in 2021. He picked up his 11th PGA Tour victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February and tied for sixth at the Players, for 16th at the Masters and for ninth at the PGA Championship.
The two-time PGA Championship winner has been searching for answers for much of this season. His track record at The Open hasn't been great, either, with one top-25 result in six starts, a tie for 11th in 2019. JT tied for 60th at the Scottish Open.
Before Kim became the PGA Tour's youngest two-time winner in the past 90 seasons, he finished third at the 2022 Scottish Open and made the cut at St. Andrews. Those performances earned him special temporary membership on tour, and he hasn't looked back since. He tied for sixth in last week's Scottish Open.
A six-time winner on the PGA Tour, Homa is still trying to figure out how to contend in a major. He has just one top-25 finish in 16 starts. His performances in the first three this season were much of the same: tie for 43rd at the Masters, tie for 55th at the PGA Championship and a disappointing missed cut at the U.S. Open.
The surprising U.S. Open winner has made only one prior start in The Open, tying for 76th at St. Andrews last year. He tied for 16th at the Scottish Open and said he loves links golf. Was his performance at Los Angeles Country Club a sign of things to come or a one-hit wonder?
LPGA star Minjee Lee's younger brother is growing out of his sister's shadow. He won the 2021 Scottish Open and tied for 21st at The Open at St. Andrews last year. He already has two top-20s in majors this year, tying for 18th at the PGA Championship and for fifth at the U.S. Open.
Even at 43, the Australian golfer seems capable of adding an elusive second major title. He picked up his first top-10 in an Open when he tied for eighth at Royal Liverpool in 2006. He tied for fifth when it returned there in 2014, when he led the field in greens in regulation and ballstriking. He seems to relish the difficult conditions.
Another star who is enjoying a career resurgence, Day has seven top-10s this season, including a victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, his first win on tour in more than five years. He has just one top-10 in 10 starts in The Open.
The Japanese star tied for sixth at the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield in Scotland; it was his lone top-10 in eight starts in the event. His 2023 campaign has been derailed by shoulder, neck and back injuries.
Gooch has won three times in the LIV Golf League since late April in tournaments in Australia, Singapore and Spain and leads the circuit's season-long points race. He is still searching for a breakthrough at a major.
The five-time PGA Tour winner has thrived in warmer climates on U.S. soil. Not so much in The Open -- or in majors for that matter. He made the cut in his first two Open starts, tying for 76th in 2021 and for 42nd in 2022.
The 2018 Masters champion hasn't done much at The Open since tying for 10th at Royal Portrush in 2019. He missed the cut in 2021 and tied for 47th the next year.
Harman tied for sixth at St. Andrews and was in contention at the Scottish Open last week until a final-round 74. A left-handed player, Harman can keep his ball flight low and putts well enough to be in the mix again.
Conners won the Valero Texas Open for the second time in April, one of the highlights in what has been a banner season for Canadian golfers. He tied for 15th in the 2021 Open and for 28th the next year. He is one of the better ball strikers on tour, but not so much when it comes to putting.
The South Korean golfer picked up the Sony Open trophy in Hawaii in January, his fourth PGA Tour victory. He tied for 15th at St. Andrews, his best finish in The Open.
After winning the Italian Open on the DP World Tour in May, Meronk is 10th in the European Ryder Cup team world standings. The former East Tennessee State University star would become the first Polish-born player to compete in the Ryder Cup if he makes the team.
The Australian golfer won the 2021 Irish Open, so he has the ball flight and soft hands required for links golf. He tied for 15th at St. Andrews, as well.
Fox, from New Zealand, will be a popular sleeper pick this week after he captured the 2022 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the DP World Tour in October.
MacIntyre, from Scotland, finished second at the Scottish Open, which moved him to third in European points for the Ryder Cup, a placement that would secure him a spot on the team. He tied for sixth at Royal Portrush in 2019 and for eighth at Royal St. George's two years later.
Theegala's ninth-place showing at the Masters proved he isn't overwhelmed at the majors, despite being in only his second season on tour. He tied for 34th at St. Andrews.
Other than finishing fourth at the Masters, Henley's season has been quiet after he won the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico in November.
The Chilean-born LIV Golf League captain didn't do much in his past two Open Championship starts, tying for 59th in 2021 and for 53rd last year.
Harrington is still competing pretty well in majors at the age of 51, as evidenced by his tie for 50th at the PGA Championship and for 27th at the U.S. Open. He missed the cut in the past two Opens at Royal Liverpool.
A two-time winner on the PGA Tour since October, Bradley missed the cut in each of his past three starts in The Open.
Hojgaard, from Denmark, is considered one of the rising stars for the European Ryder Cup team. He went a long way in securing a spot in Italy by winning the Made In HimmerLand tournament on the DP World Tour on July 9.
English finished in the top 10 in three of his past four starts in the U.S. Open. He hasn't been nearly as good in the United Kingdom's open championship, with one top-25 finish in seven starts.
The Austrian-born Straka became a serious contender for the European Ryder Cup team with a victory at the John Deere Classic on July 9. He missed the cut in his first start in The Open at St. Andrews last year.
The South Korean player has flourished at the Masters, with a tie for second in 2020 and for eighth in 2022. But he is still trying to find his footing in the other three majors, in which he doesn't have a top-15 finish.
Kitayama, who picked up his first PGA Tour victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, tied for 72nd in his first Open start last year.
One of the best putters on the PGA tour, McCarthy will be making his first start in The Open at the age of 30.
A two-time winner on the PGA Tour, Power missed the cut in his Open debut last year. He grew up in Ireland, so he is familiar with windy conditions and links golf.
He was a trendy pick as a potential sleeper at the U.S. Open but tied for 43rd. He is ranked fifth on tour in putting and avoids bogeys with the best of them.
Pieters, from Belgium, made the cut in each of his past five starts in The Open, including a tie for 28th at St. Andrews last year.
Kirk's comeback from personal issues culminated with a victory at the Honda Classic in February, his first PGA Tour win in nearly eight years. He tied for 19th at the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
Perez, from France, worked his way into the Ryder Cup discussion with a tie for 12th at the PGA Championship. He won the 2019 Dunhill Links Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews. He could use a big week to cement his spot in Italy.
The South African golfer has historically played well in windy conditions and near the coast, so he'll feel right at home at Royal Liverpool. He finished in the top three in three LIV Golf League events this season.
The 2019 U.S. Open champion missed the cut in five of his past seven starts in The Open.
Tier III: Hey, miracles happen
They are the long shots. This tier includes aging former major champions, players still searching for their form and some first-timers.
Ferguson, from Scotland, won twice on the DP World Tour last season. He also won the 2013 British Boys Amateur Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. This will be his first start in a major.
The two-time Walker Cup participant is going to be a crowd favorite this week. A longtime member at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, he grew up on the Wirral Peninsula in northwest England. Jordan made the field through final qualifying.
Grillo captured his second PGA Tour victory by winning a playoff at the Charles Schwab Challenge in May. He tied for 12th at the 2016 and 2021 Open Championships, his best finishes in majors.
The South African player was a top-10 machine at majors not long ago. His performance in the past five: WD, tie for 60th, MC, MC and WD.
After tying for second at the Masters, Mickelson didn't do much in his next two starts in majors, tying for 58th at the PGA Championship and missing the cut in the U.S. Open. He missed the cut in four of his past five starts in The Open.
Poston missed the cut in his Open debut at St. Andrews last year. A tie for sixth at last week's Scottish Open suggests he is figuring out links golf.
The Canadian Open winner will be making his Open Championship debut.
Ancer tied for 11th at St. Andrews last year, but he has struggled mightily while competing in the LIV Golf League this year. He doesn't have a top-15 finish in nine starts and is 41st in the points standings.
Todd tied for second at the John Deere Classic two weeks ago, his second runner-up of the season. He tied for 39th at the 2014 Open at Royal Liverpool.
The 2016 Masters champion has two top-10 finishes in 10 starts in The Open.
The past couple of seasons have been a struggle for the 2018 Open Championship winner. One of the highlights was a tie for 15th at last year's Open at St. Andrews. Molinari missed the cut in each of his past four starts, and he has fallen to 157th in the world.
Hoge won the 2022 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and tied for third at the Players in March, but his form hasn't been great lately.
Horschel's struggles this season have been well documented. But he tied for 21st at St. Andrews last year, his best finish in eight starts at The Open.
The 24-year-old from New Zealand won the British Masters earlier this month with an eagle-birdie-eagle-par finish to prevail by 2 strokes.
In 2006, Ramsay became the first British golfer since 1911 to win the U.S. Amateur. He was the first Scottish player to do so since 1898.
Tier IV: Happy to make the cut
They aren't expected to be among the contenders unless something magical happens in England this week.
The South African player has struggled with his form for much of the past two seasons. He has fallen to 93rd in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The other Hojgaard twin, Nicolai, tied for sixth at the Scottish Open to secure a spot in The Open. He was second at the Corales Puntacana Championship in March.
The German player's best finish in The Open was a tie for 15th at Royal St. George's in 2021.
Matt Fitzpatrick's younger brother will play in his first major. He made the field by finishing fourth in a 36-hole final qualifying event at West Lancashire in England.
The Swedish player grabbed one of the last three spots in the field by tying for third at the Scottish Open on Sunday.
The DP World Tour player from Spain is competing in his first major at the age of 36.
Smyth, who was booted out of the LIV Golf League after three tournaments in 2022, has found a home on the Asian Tour. He qualified for The Open in a rain-shortened 54-hole event. He let LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman know about it.
Robertson, from Scotland, played in the Palmer Cup in 2012 then walked away from golf two years later to work in sales and support his family. On July 4, he sank a putt of nearly 40 feet on the fifth hole of a sudden-death playoff to grab the last of the four spots in a final qualifier.
Still can't believe I'm playing in this 🙌 https://t.co/Kh9tpQSfsw— Graeme Robertson (@GRobertsonGolf) July 10, 2023
Tier V: Past champions
Past Open champions aged 60 or younger on July 23 earned exemptions into the field. This tier includes past champions who aren't listed above. Past champions Ben Curtis, David Duval, Todd Hamilton, Paul Lawrie, Justin Leonard and Tiger Woods elected not to play.
A two-time winner of The Open, in 2002 and 2012, Els finished third in the 2006 tournament at Royal Liverpool, 5 strokes behind winner Woods.
The 1995 Open Championship winner at St. Andrews remained in the field as of Monday. He pulled out of the PGA Championship in May because of an undisclosed injury then withdrew from the Senior PGA Championship last month (then complained about the tee boxes).
Johnson, the 2015 Open Championship winner and the U.S. Ryder Cup team captain, last made the cut at The Open in 2018.
Stenson, the 2016 Open Championship winner at Royal Troon in Scotland, missed the cut in each of his past two starts in the event.
The 2009 Open Championship winner last made the cut in the event in 2019, when he tied for 20th.
Tier VI: Amateurs
Here are the amateur players who will attempt to do what stars such as McIlroy, Rose, Woods and so many others did at The Open before turning pro -- winning a silver medal as the low amateur.
A two-time All-American at Georgia Tech, Lamprecht captured the British Amateur to earn exemptions into The Open and next year's Masters and U.S. Open. At 6 feet, 8 inches, the South African is the tallest player in the field.
Jose Luis Ballester Barrio
The Spanish phenom comes from strong athletic bloodlines; his father, Jose Luis Ballester, won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta in sailing, and his mother, Sonia Barrio, was a member of Spain's gold-medal-winning field hockey team in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Ballester, who plays at Arizona State, trained with Sergio Garcia's father, Victor, in Spain.
Yes, the University of Arizona player from Germany is named after Woods and after his father's friend, whose nickname as a boxer was "Tiger."