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The British Open: Golf, Links Style

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Rory McIlroy practices for this year's British Open. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Sport)

The Open Championship, known simply as "The Open," is the third of professional golf's four major tournaments of the year, and it's the oldest. For those brought up on a steady diet of plush tree-lined fairways like the North American ones on the PGA tour, get ready for the fright of your life: This is golf as you have never seen it in person.

The British Open, July 19-22 this year, is always played on a "links"-style course. In short, this means bumpy and hilly fairways filled with nasty pot bunkers and lined with thick fescue that grows up to your armpits. If all that isn't challenging enough, links courses are almost always on the coast, which brings the elements into play. Or takes your ball out of play. Whichever way you look at it, the wind and probable sideways rain will play a starring role in determining who wins the famous Claret Jug. This is not for the faint-hearted.

This year, the Open is being played at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club, tucked away on the coast of beautiful Lancashire in the North West of England. This challenging course is part of a nine-course British Open rotation. A basic rule of thumb is that the world-famous old course of St. Andrews in Scotland (the home of golf itself) hosts every five years, and eight other courses — four in England and four in Scotland — take turns in the rotation.

This is the 11th time Royal Lytham has accommodated the Open. The relationship began in 1926, when the American amateur Bobby Jones took the spoils, winning £75 for his troubles along with the original Claret Jug, which was retired two years later. The current trophy, first won by Walter Hagan in 1928, must be returned by the winner before the start of the next year's tournament — although it would have taken a brave man to ask the personable Darren Clarke, who won in 2011, to return it before he was good and ready.

Most of us across the pond haven't noticed, but Britain has had a bit of a bad go of it recently with the weather (four seasons in every summer day, as many an observer has commented), and the forecast for the Open is no different. It was the same way last year when Rory McIlroy arrived in Kent with the glow and smile of someone who had just won his first major at the U.S. Open — a smile that was quickly replaced by a grimace and a full complement of waterproofs and wellington boots. He missed the cut.

McIlroy, a Northern Ireland native, will be one of a few golfers trying to win a major on home UK soil. He'll be joined by the likes of World Number One Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, all trying to become the first Brit to win at this course since Tony Jacklin in 1969.

After a nightmare couple of years, Tiger Woods has found form again in recent months and comes to Royal Lytham as the bookies' favourite to add to his three previous Open Championships. How many Claret Jugs does a man need?

Reigning Masters Champion Bubba Watson also fancies his chances — although, as all local experts will say about tee-off drives, "If you spray, you'd better pray." Who is your favorite? I'm going with Ian Poulter, for the record.

Follow the action at Yahoo! Sports, leading up the final round on July 22.

by Matt Goff

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