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LYTHAM ST ANNES (Reuters) - Since Tiger Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open 15 different players have claimed golf's elite championships and the former world number one is favorite to land his 15th major at this week's British Open.
The American world number four, emerging from a spell in the doldrums caused by personal problems and injuries to win three tournaments this year, could return to the top of the rankings by taming the treacherous Lytham links.
"Tiger hasn't finished in the top 10 at the British Open since last winning in 2006 but he's won three U.S. PGA events this year and goes in as the man to beat," sportsbet.com.au's Haydn Lane said.
Bookmaker William Hill is offering odds of 9-1 on Woods lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday, with England's Lee Westwood and Luke Donald 14-1 and 20-1 respectively to win the title on home soil.
"Our customers are convinced that either Donald or Westwood will finally achieve their maiden major victory this week, with two-time champion Padraig Harrington their biggest danger," said Hill's spokesman Rupert Adams.
Harrington, who won the 2008 British Open and U.S. PGA Championship, is also 20-1 to claim his fourth major along with former U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.
World number one Donald believes Woods's loss of form has been the main reason for the number of different major winners.
"Obviously I think Tiger would admit that his form hasn't been as good over the last few years," Donald said.
"He hasn't been as dominant in the majors as he was. And it probably also speaks of how good a player he was, that he was able to dominate.
"Even though there are some great players around right now, no one has really come through and started to win consistently at the majors," added Donald.
"So I think that shows what an amazing run he went on and it shows just how difficult it is to win majors."
Donald and Westwood are bidding to become the first Englishman to win the Open on home soil since Tony Jacklin, at Lytham, in 1969.
"This is the biggest championship in the world for me," Westwood said. "It would obviously mean a lot, not just because Tony was the last Englishman to win the Open championship, but because it's the championship.
"We have very few tournaments in England now so it's fun to play in front of a home crowd and feel all that support but it doesn't really add to the pressure."
After weeks of torrential rain left the course sodden and with patches of virtually unplayable rough, the forecast for the tournament is for much better conditions as the players try to plot their way round Lytham's notorious 200-plus bunkers.
"You do feel a little bit claustrophobic on a lot of holes," Donald said. "The bunkers are everywhere and they're very well positioned. There's not too many holes where if you can carry it a certain distance you get past them.
"In that way I like it. I like that it just favors the guy who can hit it in the fairway."
Westwood, one of the straightest drivers in the game, is relishing the challenge.
"I'd say looking at the layout and the questions that they ask, one of the main questions obviously is to hit it as straight as possible. But whoever wins this week will have to have every aspect of their game in top shape," the world number three said.
Editing by Tony Jimenez