Golfers expecting rough time of it at British Open

Tiger Woods looks on during a practice round Tiger Woods looks on during a practice round prior to the start of the 141st British Open Championship. (July 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- It is a course of too many bunkers and too little room. Royal Lytham & St. Annes is squeezed between railroad tracks and brick Victorian homes, where Bobby Jones got a title, Tiger Woods got confidence and David Duval's fling with greatness reached its apogee.

There's nothing beautiful. The coast and Irish Sea are several blocks beyond city streets. There's plenty historic. And enticing. And, for the golfers in this 141st British Open which begins Thursday, worrisome.

"You do feel a little claustrophobic on a lot of holes,'' said Luke Donald. He's No. 1 in the world rankings, so if he's unnerved, you can imagine what the rest of the field is thinking.

"If you miss it slightly,'' said Padraig Harrington, who won two Opens and one PGA Championship, "they might as well have red stakes around the bunker [as a hazard] because you're coming out sideways.''

Royal Lytham has 206 bunkers, 17 alone on the par-4 18th, which finishes in front of a gabled clubhouse straight out of Bronte novel. The course once had 366 bunkers, one for every day of the year and leap year.

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And a summer of rain -- the weather is supposed to be decent the rest of the week -- has made the rough even rougher. Woods, after his first practice round, said the rough was "virtually impossible.'' He has softened that some.

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"The rough is in play, but it's pretty far off,'' Woods pointed out, "but the bunkers are in play. Either carry them and stop it short of the next one or skirt past them . . . You've got to stay out of the bunkers, because you can't get to the green.''

In 1996, Woods, still an amateur, shot a second-round 66 (then 5-under par, now 4-under). That persuaded him he could make it on Tour and a few weeks later he joined the Tour instead of returning for his junior year at Stanford.

This is Lancashire, Red Rose country, the foe of York half a millennium past, a battle glorified by Shakespeare in Richard III with that memorable beginning, "This is the winter of our discontent.''

But now is the summer of Open subplots: Can Donald or Lee Westwood win their first major? If either does, he'll be the first Englishman to win an Open in England since Tony Jacklin in 1969 at Royal Lytham.

Can Tiger Woods, who once slipped out of the top 50, regain first place in the world rankings? He would need a victory and Donald finishing below third place.

Can Duval, now 40, show some of the brilliance he did in winning here in 2001? Since then his one great week was at Bethpage Black in the 2009 U.S. Open when he tied for second.

"I believe in what I do,'' said Duval, who has had numerous physical problems. "I know I can play as well as anybody. Everything just needs to fall into place a little bit.''

At Royal Lytham, the probability is everything falling to a bunker.

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