LYTHAM ST ANNES, ENGLAND - JULY 16: Lee Westwood of England plays a bunker shot on the practice ground during the first practice round prior to the start of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes on July 16, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
The British Open is officially underway, and the world's biggest names are tackling everything Royal Lytham & St. Annes has to offer. But who has the best chance this week?
The 2012 British Open Championship has teed off, and players are facing what will likely be a challenging yet rewarding Royal Lytham & St. Annes golf course this week. Weather conditions have dampened the course to the point where scoring may come at a premium; however, there ain't no heather like soaking wet heather as wayward tee shots will be severely penalized on most holes.
So who has the best chance of winning the Claret Jug this week in England? Here's a quick rundown of major championship contenders for the 2012 Open Championship.
• Bubba Watson -- The 2012 Masters champion has one good thing going for him this week: length off the tee. Watson is averaging well over 300 yards on his drives this year on the PGA Tour, and Royal Lytham's difficult doglegs will shudder at the sight of Watson's bright-pink driver this week. As is the case with most tournaments he plays in, Bubba will have to keep his emotions under control and his tee-shot errors at a minimum if he hopes to win his second major of the year.
• Steve Stricker -- What Stricker lacks in distance, he makes up for in accuracy, which may be even more important this week as course management and distance control will be vital for most players. Despite not being able to capture his fourth consecutive John Deere Classic victory last week, Stricker put on a show with his irons, especially on Saturday afternoon. If he can maintain his momentum into this week and navigate all 200+ of Royal Lytham's bunkers well, he just might capture that elusive first major.
• Lee Westwood -- Speaking of elusive majors, Westy could write a book on his near misses at majors through his impressive career. He is pulling out all the stops this week in England, choosing to skip last week's Scottish Open so he could get an early look at Royal Lytham in the hopes of winning his first major victory. In the past four years, Westwood has recorded at least a fourth-place finish in seven majors, including two runner-up finishes in 2010. Enough's enough for Westwood, and this very well might be his week.
• Justin Rose -- The last Englishman to win a British Open in England was Tony Jacklin in 1969, which he won on this very course. If Westwood isn't able to seal the deal this week, countryman Justin Rose is more than willing to oblige. Rose has been playing better than he has in years and would very much like to expand on his early amateur British Open fame after his performance in 1998. His effort in 2012 will have to share the bill with his playing partner in the first two rounds: Tiger Woods.
• Tiger Woods -- Once again, Woods is the odds favorite to win a major in 2012, and once again opinions are torn as to how he will perform when the pressure is on. Woods' two previous major attempts this year have been forgettable; however, he did show some flashes of brilliance during the U.S. Open last month. If Royal Lytham remains forgiving and if Woods can keep his golf ball in play, don't be surprised if major number 15 is the end result come Sunday.
• Marcel Siem -- No, really. Marcel Siem. Arguably the best player from Germany at the moment (apologies to Martin Kaymer), Siem recently won the French Open in impressive fashion and is striking the ball better than he ever has in his young career. His victory also came at the expensive of Westwood, so "big-name" pressure may not be a factor this week for Siem during the weekend.
Tom Watson -- Who wants to be the one to count out a five-time British Open champion, who almost won his sixth title three years ago at the age of 59? Anybody? Anybody at all? Didn't think so.