141st British Open Championship Preview

There is nothing normal about the British Open Championship.

Weather hits the United Kingdom that would make sane people take cover, but at the Open, not only do you play through it, you embrace it.

Phil Mickelson, who skipped a family trip to the Vatican to play in the Scottish Open last week, said the word "hope" seven times in his Friday interview alone. He was hoping for bad weather, not just last week, but for this one as well.

(Forecasts say his hopes will be answered.)

Biblical ramifications aside of a man passing on seeing the Pope's house in favor of plague-like conditions, Mickelson wanted the worse conditions because he sort of -- not in a sadistic way, but more for the creativity of it -- looks forward to the challenge.

If you can avoid the raindrops, chances are you can't avoid the wind. A common image from British Opens past are flagsticks bent at the center in the pressure of the wind.

But again, some people dig conditions like that.

"It's the only tournament besides the sandbelt courses in Australia that we can actually use the ground as a friend and bounce the ball into the greens," said three-time British Open winner Tiger Woods. "Modern golf is all up in the air."

There are weird bumps, and balls that appear to be destined for a tranquil life in the fairway only to take up residence in a bunker. And avoiding bunkers won't be easy this week. There are 204 sand traps at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

"It's well bunkered," said Ernie Els. "As well bunkered as anything I've played."

Goofiness abounds at the oldest major championship, or, as Woods called it, his "favorite major championship."

There's so much goofiness, we can't agree on what to call it. Is it The Open, or The Open Championship, or the British Open? Whatever it's called, it promises to be a weird week.

In the golf era we live in, parity is king. The last 15 major championships and have been won by 15 different players. Tiger's game has been inconsistent, yes, but this new era where anyone can win is refreshing.

Royal Lytham's last two British Opens rewarded good players who were major threats before the week.

Tom Lehman took a 6-shot lead into Sunday in 1996 and won by two. He had been a Sunday contender at the Masters and just about every U.S. Open in the 90s. Lehman finally got his major at Royal Lytham.

David Duval can always say that he supplanted Woods as the No. 1 player in the world during Woods' prime. Problem was, Duval couldn't shake Woods at a major, especially at the Masters.

But 11 years ago, Duval sipped good liquor out the claret jug. He distanced himself from the field, but sadly, Duval's career took a sharp nosedive shortly after.

(Let's be honest, what everyone remembers from the '01 British is Ian Woosnam getting caught with an extra club in the bag, then tossing it in a bush.)

Neither of the recent Open winners at Lytham are legit threats this year.

If you look at the records from those two Opens, two names jump off the page.

Els, the 2002 British winner, tied for second in 1996 and shared third in 2001. Those are stout finishes for a man with a great British Open record. His form is decent and this could be a week to exorcise the demons of not making the Masters field or a Sunday charge at the U.S. Open.

The other name was recently engraved on the claret jug.

Darren Clarke, who won by three last year at Royal St. George's, also tied for third in 2001 and was a joint 11th 16 years ago. Clarke's form is not great, nor is his health, although he told the Telegraph, "I'm ready to go."

Records aside, for the third major in a row, it's hard not to like Woods. He picked up his third win of the season at the AT&T National, but his Royal Lytham record isn't sterling. He tied for 22nd as an amateur in 1996 and shared 25th place 11 years ago.

Woods loves this tournament and is a links golfer somewhere in his heart. He has three Open titles and the mindset to excel this week.

Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald are the game's three best players. McIlroy has been in a rut, but has spent a lot of time at Royal Lytham with buddy Graeme McDowell in recent weeks.

Westwood and Donald are the best players without majors. Westwood didn't shine in 2001 and Donald hasn't looked good in major championships.

There might some unknowns like Nicolas Colsaerts, who made some noise at Olympic Club.

Jeev Milkha Singh won on the European Tour, but a nice value choice for your office pool might be Francesco Molinari. He's finished second the last two weeks.

Sergio Garcia is an interesting pick, as is two-time winner Padraig Harrington. Rickie Fowler has two top-15s in two appearances.

Call this a hunch and a leap of faith, but I'm going with McIlroy. I think he's learning a hard lesson about how much work is required to be the game's best. I think he's motivated by McDowell's showing at the U.S. Open.

I think McIlroy adds the British Open to his major championship list.

Or The Open.

Or The Open Championship.