While everyone wants the first-round lead at the Open, no-one is hell-bent on securing it. Even for the best players, it's a nice-to-have, not a must-have. After all, this relative sprint within a four-round marathon carries no prizes for victory. Only the dubious reward of added media scrutiny and increased expectation.
Then again, it would be folly to regard it as a poisoned chalice to be pushed aside. True, most trailblazers seldom go on to finish the job. But no first-round position has a better conversion rate than that of the leader. Just take Rory McIlroy at last year's US Open, who jumped out of the tournament blocks through 18 holes and never looked back.
At the risk of sounding redundant, if a golfer posts their name atop the board after the opening bout, they are clearly playing at the peak of their powers. However, it may also imply that they have benefitted from the best of the conditions. And the weather is rarely more polarised than at the Open where changeable conditions can elicit profound differences in scoring between the morning and afternoon waves.
Of course, it is the morning tee times which usually offer players the chance to launch a red-figure assault on a course at its most benign - the winds are flat and the greens unblemished. Needless to say, greens don't get spiked when they're untouched. By contrast, the afternoon phalanx of golfers can become embroiled in rising breezes and putting surfaces which have been abraded by the afternoon sun and traffic.
Thursday's long-range forecast at Royal Lytham appears to embody that British summer standard: sunshine and showers, with an emphasis on the latter. Winds are predicted at up to 13mph, picking up as the day wears on. In short, fickle conditions, typical of the Open. Avoiding the squalls and worst of the gusts can save you a good few shots every day, so do check the forecast updates for any significant changes.
As ever, though, the meteorology appears set fair for the early bird to catch the first-round lead this week. And the criteria to sort the wheat from the chaff in this regard are surely the statistics of Total Driving and Greens in Regulation. Lytham is known as the fairest of venues, rewarding pure-striking from tee to green and punishing poor approaches with an array of sand traps which promise extract the proper penalty from those who dare to trespass within their borders.
Subscribing to these decisive factors, the following likely lads appeal.
Adam Scott (8.42am) has been coming to the boil slowly this term, but laid down a marker to his future form when chasing Tiger Woods home at the recent AT&T (and could've even bettered his swing-mentor, had he not overslept before his first-round tee time). Long and straight, Scott has both the links know-how and the track record as a strong pacemaker.
Dustin Johnson (9.31am)| a mercurial talent who is peerless when his rare blend of mammoth-hitting and bullseye putting comes together. DJ gifted last year's Open to Darren Clarke but is evidently comfortable on the links and hot on the heels of last month's win at the St Jude Classic. His first-round scoring stats (12th on Tour) are also top-notch.
Sergio Garcia (9.42am) arguably the field's finest links exponent from an innate point of view: possessed of all the shots and the requisite imagination. Garcia's self-belief, especially with the flat-stick, remains the enduring question mark and the man of today is a long way from the kid who taunted Tiger down the stretch at Medinah in 1999. Perversely, this apparent lack of expectation is a gift for Garcia this week - especially in a marquee group which pits him against Woods and Justin Rose. He has already outperformed Tiger head-to-head twice this year and could do so again, en route to securing the first-round plaudits.
Kevin Na (10.15am) possessed of the requisite low ball-flight to penetrate the blustery gusts and possibly the best short-game practitioner on Tour, Na has hinted at peak form since tweaking his swing and protracted pre-shot routine. A slightly later tee-time of 10.15am could see him prosper away from the glare of the TV cameras.
Back Adam Scott
Back Dustin Johnson
Back Sergio Garcia
Back Kevin Na