Storylines to watch heading into the first round of the British Open

Jonathan Wall

Like every major championship, the British Open is full of intriguing storylines. Tiger Woods' stinger, Luke Donald's poor record at the Open Championship, Ernie Els' past success and Royal Lytham's 206 pot bunkers? There's a good chance you'll hear about all at some point during the week. The first round is just hours away, so let's take a quick look at a few of the important storylines going into Day 1.

What's the status of Tiger Woods' 'stinger'? — If there's one shot in Tiger's arsenal that could separate him from the field, it's the stinger. The low, boring shot that never gets more than a couple feet off the ground has been a British Open staple over the years, but it wasn't until recently that we saw Woods execute it again with Sean Foley's swing. Woods skipped out on a practice round and spent Wednesday perfecting the stinger on the range, so you know it's going to come out in the first round. Keep an eye on the number of times he uses it over the course of 72 holes. If he has it working early on, there's a chance this could be a very, very good week.

Royal Lytham's 206 pot bunkers — Keeping it in play and avoiding the rough at Royal Lytham is important, but so is avoiding the 206 pot bunkers on the course. Padraig Harrington said early in the week that the bunkers "might as well have red stakes around the bunker, because you're coming out sideways," while Darren Clarke mentioned that some might have to take an unplayable if the ball ends up in a precarious spot. With so many spread out all over the course, there's a good chance everyone in the field will find one sooner or later. The key is getting back in play in as few strokes as possible. Whoever hits the least number of bunkers for the week will likely walk away with the Claret Jug.

Can Luke Donald and Lee Westwood get off to a good start? — Getting off to a good start doesn't always equal success, but there's no question Luke Donald and Lee Westwood (the two biggest names in the field still searching for a major championship) need to take something positive away from their first round. Both missed the cut last year at Royal St Georges, so they have a lot to prove this week. Posting a solid number would be the perfect way to kick things off and get them in the right frame of mind.

How will golfers handle starting their round on a par-3? — Tiger Woods said early in the week that opening with a par 3 makes you think, and while we'd like to believe that every golfer in the field can handle a 205-yard par-3 to start their round, you have to wonder if nerves and being forced to fire at a pin from the outset is going to be a factor. Some guys need a couple holes to get loose, but with a par-3 right off the bat, no one has that luxury.

Will the draw be a factor in the early week? — Winning a British Open comes down to your play on the course, but there's also a bit of luck involved with the draw. Conditions can change at a moment's notice, and we've seen that over the years with calm conditions for the morning wave and gale force winds for guys going off in the afternoon. The crazy thing is we don't know what Thursday's going to bring. At the moment, rain is in the forecast, but if it hangs around for the early groups and clears out by the afternoon, we could see lower scores later in the day. It's the luck of the draw, after all.

Can Ernie Els rekindle the magic at Royal Lytham? — He never won at Royal Lytham, but Ernie Els has had more success over the years than almost any player in the field at the Lancashire course. He finished T-3 in 2001 and second in 1996.  He's older and has put on a few more pounds since the last British Open at Royal Lytham, but if anyone can capitalize on course knowledge and past success at the course, it's this guy. If he can put a solid number on the board during the first round, watch out.