- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 17, 2012

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND (AP) - The most valuable slip of paper found at any British Open is not a list of the odds. It’s the forecast.

Neither of them can be trusted.

Pot bunkers that are staggered down the fairway and surround the green were all the talk Tuesday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and no doubt they will play a critical role in deciding who has his name engraved on the claret jug. Because of a wet spring _ really wet _ the native grass covering the dunes and hillocks is so thick and deep that any ball going that far off line could be lost forever.

No matter which links course golf’s oldest championship is played on, however, weather is as significant as a burn, a bunker or even an out-of-bounds stake. This is the only major remaining with a full field that does not send half the players off on the first tee and the other half on the 10th tee. Barry Lane will get the Open started on Thursday at 6:19 a.m. Ashley Hall will be the last to tee off at 4:11 p.m.

Now, consider the weather on Britain’s seaside links can change in a New York minute.

“Being on the right side of the draw always plays a part in the Open Championship,” Darren Clarke said. “You get good sides, bad sides. That’s part of the Open Championship. The scoring can differ massively because of these weather conditions. But that’s part and parcel of the Open Championship. Thankfully, I got a good one last year.”

Clarke wound up winning at Royal St. George’s, and Saturday was the key.

He was dressed in full rain gear, all black, when he walked onto the first tee with a share of the 36-hole lead. When he walked up to the 18th green, he was wearing short sleeves and blinked in the bright sunshine of late afternoon. The morning group faced raging wind and rain. They had no chance to make up ground.

It was quite the opposite on a Saturday at Muirfield in 2002.

Steve Elkington made the cut on the number and wound up in a four-way playoff, helped in part by playing Saturday morning in pleasant conditions. Justin Leonard went from a tie for 50th to a tie for third by playing before the 30 mph gusts and bone-chilling rain arrived. Tiger Woods? He wasn’t so fortunate. Going for the third leg of the Grand Slam that year, he had a career-high 81.

“I was on the first tee when that stormed rolled in, Tiger Woods a group or two behind me,” Clarke said. “That was a tough one.”

The forecast for the week? Seems like it changes every day.

Woods put great detail into his practice round Sunday, his first time at Lytham in 11 years, fearful that the rest of the practice rounds would be washed out and that would be his best chances. He wound up playing the next two mornings, and the umbrella never came out of the bag.

Lee Westwood felt like a genius Monday afternoon when he and Luke Donald decided to go out for a practice round in the rain. Well before they finished, the sun was out, the breeze was gentle, and it was ideal.

“It was one of the best Open Championship practices I ever had,” Westwood said.

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