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British Open begins Thursday

July 18, 2012 at 8:54 PM   |   Comments

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England, July 18 (UPI) -- The oldest golf tournament in the world begins Thursday with a series of streaks in progress at the sport's major championships.

The first British Open was played a year prior to the start of the American Civil War and the tournament continues as one of the most anticipated weeks of the worldwide sporting calendar.

Barry Lane will strike the first ball of the event at 6:30 a.m. local time and 155 more of the best players in golf will follow him around the Royal Lytham & St. Annes links.

Tiger Woods, needing four major championship titles to equal the all-time record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus, will be trying for his first since he captured the U.S. Open in 2008.

A wide-open competition is expected, with all the usual candidates lined up in hopes of claiming the claret jug trophy that goes to the winner.

Woods has won three times on the PGA Tour this year, the only player to have done so, and has climbed to No. 4 in the world rankings.

Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood rank above Woods -- and all have to be considered among the top contenders.

Behind Woods in the rankings are newly crowned U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, Masters champ Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan.

They make up just a small number of those who could contend.

If there is a first-time major winner this week, it will not be a surprise. Beginning with Graeme McDowell's victory at the 2010 U.S. Open, there have been nine consecutive first-time major champions.

McDowell's win was followed by those of Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley, Watson and Simpson.

The last 15 major events have been won by 15 different players, beginning with Padraig Harrington at the 2008 PGA Championship.

The last three majors were won by three different Americans. That had not happened since Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis, Shawn Micheel and Phil Mickelson won four straight major tournaments beginning with the 2003 U.S. Open.

The weather can play a big role in determining who and who will not be a factor in the tournament.

Royal Lytham & St. Annes has been left with heavy rough created by one of the wettest springs on record and forecasters said there was a good chance of rain for the first round Thursday.

The potential for showers is expected to steadily diminish as the weekend continues.

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