Shotgun Start: Previewing the British Open

It's tournament time! The best golfers in the world descend on Lancashire, England for the British Open at famed Royal Lytham and St Annes. Here's a tournament primer to get you prepared for the week.

The course: Every course in the British Open rota has its quirks. But Royal Lytham and St Annes? It could be the quirkiest of the bunch. With 206 pot bunkers, an opening par-3 and a closing stretch that includes six straight par-4s, you'd be hard-pressed to find a course with more character than this one.

The 126-year-old golf club hasn't received a major facelift since it last hosted a British Open back in 2001, but it did make a couple changes that could make things very interesting this week. The biggest addition has to be two dozen new pot bunkers to the layout that will have some golfers seeing red this week.

With 206 dotted all around the course, every player in the field will probably have to play from at least one of them at some point during a round. These aren't your typical bunker, mind you. They're small, deep and have faces that will force some to play out sideways.

"If you miss [your drive] slightly and go into one of those bunkers, well, they might as well have red stakes around the bunker, because you're coming out sideways," Padraig Harrington said.

Harrington isn't the only guy playing up the difficulty of the bunkers this week; Darren Clarke said some may opt to take an unplayable if they can't advance the ball.

But Royal Lytham is more than a British Open sandbox. The course has a number of intriguing holes, starting with the 205-yard par-3 opener. The only course on the Open rota to begin with a par-3, golfers will have to be on their game from the very first shot. The hole is surrounded by nine pot bunkers, so a wayward shot could lead to a big number right off the bat.

The par-4 sixth could be the hole to watch on the front nine, after officials from the R&A decided to change the hole from a par-5 to a par-4. After playing as the easiest hole during the 2001 British Open, the 492-yard dogleg left hole could be one of the toughest on the course.

And then there's the five-hole closing stretch — all five holes are par-4s — considered to be the toughest on the course. The 467-yard par-4 17th could be the baddest of the bunch and requires a perfectly placed drive to have any chance at making par. The approach shot is blind, but if you can bring the ball in from right to left, you should be able to find the green and walk away unscathed.

Throw in some of the thickest and gnarliest rough some players have ever seen, and the potential for rain on Thursday and Friday, and you have one heck of a major championship test.

[Related: Robert Karlsson pulls out of the British Open for an odd reason]

The schedule: The tournament runs Thursday-Sunday. It'll be broadcast on ESPN from 4:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

The field: There's a PGA Tour event going on in Mississippi this week, but everyone knows the best players in the world are going to at Royal Lytham. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson? Yep, they'll all be teeing it up. The only guy from the Official World Golf Ranking top 10 not in the field is Webb Simpson, who decided to skip out on the tournament so he could be with his wife for the birth of their second child. That's about the only legitimate excuse you can have for not making the trip across the pond.

The video: Check out some of the memorable moments from the British Open's history.

Your turn. Who are your picks for this week? Swing away!

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