The 141st Open Championship will be contested this week at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club in Lancashire. Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke is the defending champion.

The world’s best golfers have descended on the Fylde coast to play for the most prestigious individual prize in the game. The Open Championship returns to Royal Lytham for the first time since David Duval lifted the Claret Jug in 2001.

This will be the 11th time the Open has been held over the links at Lytham. It first visited in 1926 when Bobby Jones was champion and Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Bob Charles, Tony Jacklin, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros (twice,) Tom Lehman and David Duval have been the other winners.

It’s a supremely testing course and the challenge has been heightened since 2001. The layout has been lengthened by 181 yards and the par reduced from 71 to 70 – the sixth has been changed from a par-5 to a par-4.

Recent wet weather means the test will be even more severe. The course is lush, green and soft and the ball is not running out as much as usual on a links. In addition, the rough has grown up and it will be a significant hazard through the week.

The top British players are feeling confident of securing another home victory following Darren Clarke’s impressive win at Royal St George’s last year.

England’s Lee Westwood, who has 14 top-10 Major finishes to his name, is hoping that this, his 58th Major appearance, will deliver a first Major title.

“I had a decent chance at the Masters and was in contention again at the US Open a few weeks ago, so I am feeling very confident going to Lytham,” he said. “My form has been really good in the Majors recently. I look forward to every Major I play in and I seem to be contending in all of them.”

World Number 2 Rory McIlroy is also in a positive mood. After a disappointing performance in last year’s Open Championship, he’s keen to prove he has the game for links golf.

“Last year I just didn’t play well enough to get into contention,” he said. “I felt that to some degree at Portrush (for the Irish Open) I played well in bad conditions. And if it’s like that again this week, you’re just going to have to knuckle down and focus and keep fighting.”

Venue: Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club, Lancashire
Date: 19-22 July
Course stats: par 70, 7,086 yards
Purse: £5,000,000 Winner: £900,000
Defending Champion: Darren Clarke (-5)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 19 – Live on BBC2 from 9am
Friday 20 – Live on BBC2 from 9am
Saturday 21 – Live on BBC1 from 10am
Sunday 22 – Live on BBC2 form 11am

Player Watch:
Graeme McDowell – The 2010 US Open champion came very close to winning that tournament again this season. He’s proved he can handle the pressure of the game’s most significant events and he has a game that’s suited to this course. The winner here will keep it in the fairway and McDowell is one of the straightest hitters out there.

Paul Lawrie – The Scot is playing the best golf of his career this season. He’ll be keen to bounce back from the disappointment of missing the cut at the Scottish Open with a solid performance here. He’s a great bad-weather player so he’ll be hoping the wind picks up. If it does he could be lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday for a second time.

Francesco Molinari – Another straight hitter, Molinari lost in a playoff at Castle Stuart last week. He’s one of the most consistent players on the European Tour and an excellent strategist.

Key hole: 17th. An extremely challenging par four of 453 yards, this is a hole where par is a great score. The drive from the tee is a very challenging one with bunkers on both sides. The green is also well protected by sand.

Skills required: Keeping it in play. The rough is pretty brutal and finding it will generally result in a hack sideways. The players who can keep it straight will have a distinct advantage this week.