Hoylake (United Kingdom) (AFP) - The stage was set on Wednesday for the 143rd British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf club with title contenders keeping one eye on back-from-injury Tiger Woods and another on the ever-changing weather conditions.
The final day of practice for what is building up to be one of the most open Opens in years was marked by heavy downpours on the Wirral peninsula, edged in between Liverpool and the north Wales coastline, sending spectators scurrying for cover and players reaching for their umbrellas.
The forecast for the next four days showed a mixture of sunshine and heavy rain, with warnings of possible thunderstorms for Saturday.
Woods, who will play in just his second tournament in over nearly four months since undergoing back surgery in late March, had already put in most of his preparation work after arriving at Hoylake on Saturday.
He is looking to repeat his feat of eight years ago when he won the 12th of his 14 major titles with a masterly display of accurate shot-making on a fiery and fast-running, sun-baked course.
Whether he can resurrect his flagging injury-hit career this week is one of the strong story lines that will be played out over the next four days.
Playing with Woods in the first two rounds will be Swede Henrik Stenson, ranked world number two and seen as one of the tournament favourites.
Stenson insists he will not be overawed by the Woods presence at his side on the first tee on Thursday morning insisting that the old days when one or two players could dominate the field were long gone.
"I think every sport develops over time and ours is not different," he said.
"It's become so competitive. It feels like anyone in the field can win if they have a great week.
"You see it on the European Tour and the PGA Tour on the number of players that on each stroke make a bogey and you fall 15, 20 spots sometimes.
"So its very competitive and very tight. It would take something very special to have two guys come on board and dominate it, like it was possibly further back."
Much of the talk in the buildup to the tournament has been on how "fair" is the Royal Liverpool Golf Club course - a 7,312 yards, par-72 layout speckled with an army of pot bunkers and with some brutally tough par-fours, but also four par-fives that can spill up plenty of birdies if the weather is kind.
Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, who learned his golf at Royal Portrush over the Irish Sea from Hoylake, compared negotiating Royal Liverpool to playing a boardgame.
"This is my kind of golf course this week," said McDowell, who admits to being one of the shorter hitters off the tee in the top echelons of golf.
"From my point of view I don't want to walk on to this golf course and say, here we go again, this is 330-yard paradise."
"It's not that type of golf course. Look at the way Tiger won here in 2006. He can dominate with length, but he didn't have to. This golf course doesn't ask that question. It asks you to play a game of chess more than anything else."
Weather conditions, pot bunkers and Tiger Woods apart, the sub-plots this week are numerous and varied.
Phil Mickelson is the defending champion at 44, Adam Scott seeks to bury the agony of two near misses in the last two years and emulate his boyhood hero Greg Norman, the last Australian to win the Open Championship 21 years ago and Rory McIlroy wants to finally come good in the tournament after six frustrating attempts.
Apart from Woods and Mickelson, the American challenge is led by world number four Bubba Watson and number five Matt Kuchar, while second ranked Stenson is out to become the first Swede to lift the Claret Jug.
US Open winner Martin Kaymer, meanwhile says that Germany's World Cup triumph in Brazil could be the springboard he needs to pull off a rare Open double.