July 15 Update: There's an Irishman atop the British Open leaderboard, but it's not favorite Rory McIlroy. Darren Clarke shares the second-round lead with American Lucas Glover, both at -4 (136). Four are within one shot, including first-round leader Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez. The entire field is separated by just seven shots heading into the weekend, with notables McIlroy even through 36 and Phil Mickelson at -1.
Weather is the big story going into Saturday with wet, windy and cooler in the forecast. Sustained winds of 20 mph are expected, gusts as high as 30 mph.
July 14 Update: An amateur and an alternate finished at the top of the leaderboard in first-round play on Thursday. Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who got into the field only when Vijay Singh opted out, posted the first 5-under 65 and young English amateur Tom Lewis matched it later when conditions at Royal St. Georges slowly improved after some tough weather for the morning players. Bjorn is best known for blowing a late lead at this course in 2003 while 20-year-old Lewis, who was named for one of his playing partners today, 5-time champion Tom Watson, is a rising young star on the British amateur scene.
Favorite Rory McIlroy overcame a rough start to finish at 71 (+1), six stroked behind the leaders. Three golfers are one behind Bjorn and Lewis following rounds of 66 (-4), Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez along with Americans Webb Simspon and Lucas Glover.
Irish eyes are smiling as The Open Championship prepares to get underway at Royal St. George's Golf Club in Sandwich, England.
Rory McIlroy, less than a month removed from his stunning victory in the US Open, is the betting favorite to take home the Claret Jug at the 140th British Open. The 22-year-old from County Down, Northern Ireland is priced at +650 to win on the Don Best odds screen followed by the English tandem of Lee Westwood (+915) and Luke Donald (+1015).
That trio makes up the bulk of the reason why the winner is expected to come from Great Britain or Ireland. A victor from either country is +125 followed by the USA (+235), Rest Of The World (+325) and Continental Europe (+515).
McIlroy will be teeing it up for the first time since his wire-to-wire win at the US Open. The Irishman's final score of 268 (-16) set a new record in the tournament, besting the previous 272 that was shared by four golfers, including Jack Nicklaus in 1980 and Tiger Woods in 2000.
The victory was made all the sweeter after McIlroy fell apart during the final nine holes of the Masters Tournament in May. McIlroy blew a 4-shot lead entering Sunday play with a final-round 80.
Donald, the world's top-ranked golfer, will be seeking his first major championship and is coming off last weekend's rain-shortened Barclays Scottish Open. His top finish at a British Open was a 5th-place tie at Turnberry in 2009.
Westwood, the former No. 1, is also gunning for his first major. He finished second in last year's Open Championship played at St. Andrew's, seven shots behind South African Louis Oosthuizen who is a big underdog to defend his crown at 70/1.
Quietly drafting the golf betting favorites are Ireland's Graeme McDowell (+1850) and Germany's Martin Kaymer (+2050). Steve Stricker and Nick Watney, both at about 20/1, are the top Americans in the field according to the odds.
Two of the most intriguing groups in the first two rounds go off one after another a little after 5 a.m. (PT) Thursday. Westwood and Stricker will be joined by South African Charl Schwartzel (40/1), the beneficiary of McIlroy's collapse at Augusta in May. That group is followed by the trio of Oosthuizen, Kaymer and Phil Mickelson, a 30/1 pick to win his fifth major and first British Open.
McIlroy is teamed with 41-year-old South African Ernie Els (50/1) and 22-year-old American Rickie Fowler (70/1) in the 15th group to begin the opening round. Els is one of 15 former British Open champs playing in this year's event, a group that includes Americans Mark Calcavecchia and John Daly plus Aussie Greg Norman.
Donald is in the group just behind McIlroy and will be playing with colorful Japanese youngster Ryo Ishikawa (150/1) and Spain's Sergio Garcia (25/1).
Two notables not taking part this year are American Tiger Woods, still nursing his various injuries, and Scotland's Colin Montgomerie who will be missing the Open Championship for the first time since 1989.
This will be the 14th Open Championship held at Royal St. George's, and the first since 2003 when American Ben Curtis pulled one of the biggest upsets in the tournament's history with a -1 (283) score. The course will play to par-70 this time, and just over 7,200 yards.
The stroke shaved from the course in this year's tourney came on the intimidating fourth hole. A Par-5 in '03, it will be a nearly 500-yard Par-4 this time.
ESPN has coverage of Round 1 beginning at 1:00 a.m. (PT) on Thursday. Start times for viewers on this side of the pond don't get much better as the tournament progresses, with Sunday's final round telecast starting at 3:00 a.m. (PT).