1 Tiger Woods » The three-time British Open champion will try to end his four-year major drought, the longest of his career. Entering all four of the majors in 2009 and the first two this year, Woods was coming off a victory in his previous PGA tournament, heightening expectations that he failed to meet. This time Woods is coming off a missed cut at the Greenbrier -- never a good omen -- but perhaps it can be a positive because it ratchets down the pre-tournament pressure. Vegasinsider.com lists Woods as the favorite at 8-1 with Rory McIlroy next at 10-1 and Lee Westwood at 12-1.
2 Royal Lytham & St. Annes » The course, which opens with a par 3 and closes with six tough par-4 holes, has produced an illustrious list of international winners, including Seve Ballesteros (twice), Gary Player, Peter Thomson and Bobby Jones. But conditions at Lytham are usually hard and fast. This year, with the course softened by rain, it will be easier for players to keep tee shots clear of the penal fairway bunkers and unusually lush rough. Wind is always the key variable. "You have a lot of different angles," Woods said. "It really tests your ability to hit shots and hit them the proper distances more so than most links courses."
3 Majorless Brits » World No. 1 Luke Donald and No. 3 Lee Westwood have taken different routes to the dubious distinction as the best players without a major. While Donald has failed to break 70 in his last 20 opening rounds in majors, Westwood has been frustratingly close, with eight top 10s in his last 12 majors. Both players have dealt with their major failures differently -- Donald admits to anxiety, while Westwood counters criticism with sarcasm and humor. Either way, the pressure on the duo is enormous, especially in the Open. England's best hope for a breakthrough might rest with Justin Rose or Ian Poulter.
|Where »||Royal Lytham & St. Annes,||Lytham St. Annes, England|
4 Rory McIlroy » After a fine start to the season that included a win at the Honda and runner-up finishes at the Match Play Championship and Wells Fargo, McIlroy has missed the cut in four of his last six events, including the U.S. Open, where he was defending champion. Along the way, McIlroy has chafed at criticism from the notorious British press that he has lost his focus on golf and is spending too much time globetrotting with girlfriend and tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. When asked this week whether his eye was "back on the ball now," the usually expansive McIlroy answered curtly, "I think so, yeah."
FIT FOR THE TROPHY
The last 15 majors have been won by 15 different players, including the last nine, which have been captured by first-time major champions. Which player, in the prime of his career, has the stuff to break through? This ball-strikers course should suit world No. 7 Jason Dufner, No. 9 Justin Rose and No. 13 Adam Scott. Others worthy of their first major include No. 8 Matt Kuchar, No. 10 Hunter Mahan, No. 14 Steve Stricker, No. 17 Dustin Johnson and No. 21 Jason Day.
UNDER THE RADAR
With slow greens, soft conditions and a multitude of deep bunkers, Royal Lytham likely will favor an accurate driver and iron player. The premium will not be on putting. It's a formula suited for Lee Westwood. But other under-the-radar players who bear watching include Vijay Singh, John Senden, Kyle Stanley, Rickie Fowler and the resurgent Sergio Garcia, who amazingly ranks 18th in strokes gained putting, traditionally a weakness.
Darren Clarke's 2011 victory at Royal St. George's was one of the most popular in tournament history. But don't count on the 43-year-old from Northern Ireland to contend this year. His best finish over the last 12 months is a tie for 17th. Don't count on 2011 runner-up Phil Mickelson contending either. With only two top-10 finishes in 18 starts, Lefty has rarely shown an affinity for the windy conditions of links golf.
BY THE NUMBERS
37 Rounds shot in the 60s by three-time winner Nick Faldo (1987, 1990, 1992), the most in British Open history.
63 Is the best 18-hole score at the Open. It has been done eight times, last by Rory McIlroy at St. Andrews in 2010.
267 Shot by Greg Norman at Royal St. George's in 1993 is the best 72-hole score at the Open. The best score in relation to par was 19 under by Tiger Woods at St. Andrews in 2000.
205 Bunkers at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Several have been added since David Duval's victory in 2001, the last time the course hosted.