10 things you might not know about Royal Lytham

View of the clubhouse and the 18th green during practice for the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

View of the clubhouse and the 18th green during practice for the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – In preparation for the 141st Open Championship, which begins here along the Lancashire Coast of England on Thursday, here are 10 things you might not know about Royal Lytham:

• • •

1. NICE LINEUP: There have been 10 Open Championships contested at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and the roll call of champions is sheer class. All 10 previous winners, from Bobby Jones (1926) to David Duval (2001), are either Hall of Famers or have held the No. 1 perch in the Official World Golf Ranking. That would include Tom Lehman (1996 winner), who spent a week at No. 1 in April 1997.

• • •

2. BACK FOR MORE: The first shot of the Open will be struck by Englishman Barry Lane, 52, who went through Local Qualifying at nearby St. Annes Old Links and will be competing in his 15th Open. Lane has played roughly a quarter of his Open rounds under par (10/42); the only time he failed to break 80 was in 1988, when he shot at second-round 85 … at Royal Lytham.

• • •

3. GOOD VIBES: Tiger Woods played the Open at Lytham as a 20-year-old amateur in 1996 and finished T-22 to earn the championship’s silver medal for low am. He shot 66 in the second round that year, an Open score he has bettered only four times in his 15 Open starts (64, Troon, 1997; 65, Birkdale, 1998; 65, Muirfield, 2002; and 65, Hoylake, 2006).

• • •

4. LONG STORY: Many people remember that in 2001, tournament leader Ian Woosnam stuck his approach within inches of the hole at the par-3 opening hole, but instead of tapping in for a birdie 2, he ended up signing for a bogey when it was discovered on the second tee that he had 15 clubs in his bag. Instead of being tied for the lead, he was assessed a two-stroke penalty, slipped two shots back, and shot 71 to finish four shots behind winner David Duval. But did you realize that Woosnam would have been the first player to win a major using a long putter? Instead, that wouldn’t happen until a full decade later (Keegan Bradley, 2011 PGA Championship).

• • •

5. ONE AND ONLY: Bob Charles, who won at Lytham in 1963 (in a playoff over American Phil Rodgers), remains the only left-hander to win an Open Championship. Phil Mickelson, if you are wondering, has played in 18 Open Championships and has only two top-10 finishes – in 2004 (third) and in 2011 (T-2).

• • •

6. BACK TO NORMAL: Even with a few eligible players having withdrawn from this year’s Open (Webb Simpson, Jason Day, David Toms, Mark O’Meara), Wednesday began with a field of 157, one spot higher than usual. So Thursday’s opening round was scheduled to feature not the ordinary 52 games, but 53, with a pair of two-balls leading the way off the first tee (Lane and American James Driscoll first off, followed by Richard Finch/Garth Mulroy). However, when Robert Karlsson withdrew later in the day, it brought the field to 156, its normal size. Mulroy was added to the Lane/Driscoll pairing, and Finch took Karlsson’s slot at 1:10 p.m. And Open starter Ivor Robson, who has held the position since 1975, has one fewer game to introduce. Ben Crane is first alternate, or “reserve,” as they say over here, but the R&A has removed him from the list, leaving Michael Thompson on deck.

• • •

7. EASY DOES IT? Early-week odds on Ernie Els to win have been hovering around 40-1, but know this about the Big Easy: He has competed in two Opens at Royal Lytham and contended twice. In 1996, he was a runner-up to Tom Lehman, making bogeys at two of his last three holes to finish two shots back; in 2001, he was third, finishing in the top 7 in fairways and greens in regulation. His scoring average at Lytham is 68.87.

• • •

8. ART AT ITS BEST: Seve Ballesteros is famous for being Lytham’s Car Park champion of 1979 in reference to an errant drive sprayed to the right at the short, par-4 16th hole. Truth be told, his tee shot wasn’t all that bad, as the car park (which is no longer) sits to the right of the fairway. Seve used the driver nine times that day, and hit one fairway in those nine attempts, displaying his scrambling artistry. Ballesteros won his first (1979) and last (1988) Opens at Lytham.

• • •

9. THIS TIME, IT COUNTS: Englishman Ian Keenan, 36, who qualified for the Open at Southport & Ainsdale, is listed as playing in his first Open. Well, that’s not totally true. When an odd number of players made the cut at Royal Liverpool in 2006, Keenan, who resided about a mile away, teed it up as a non-competing marker on the Open’s final day alongside Paraguay’s Marco Ruiz, getting to experience the thrill of walking up the 18th hole of an Open on Sunday.

• • •

10. LIKING THE LINKS: Tom Lehman became the first American in 70 years to win at Lytham when he captured his lone major in 1996. All in all, the U.S. has fared OK at the famed links. Four times the British Amateur has been staged at Lytham since 1935, and three of the four winners were Americans: Lawson Little (1935), Joe Conrad (1955) and Drew Weaver (2007).

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