LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- As Lee Westwood and Luke Donald were coming toward the end of their practice round on what had been another awful day of English weather, a strange thing happened.
The thick clouds began to break up in the western sky. There were patches of blue and, yes, even a brief glimpse of the sun.
For a few glorious moments Monday, Westwood and Donald were putting through shadows on the 16th green.
An omen, perhaps?
No English golfer has won a British Open on English soil since 1969, but the prospects of snapping that drought at Royal Lytham & St. Annes seem brighter than ever. Donald is ranked No. 1 in the world. Westwood sits at No. 3. Justin Rose isn't far behind, holding down the ninth spot. Ian Poulter is further back (No. 28), but he's contended at the Open and played well in the Ryder Cup.
"Certainly the talent in England is great right now," Donald said.
Tony Jacklin is clearly impressed. He just happens to be that English winner from 43 years ago -- a triumph that took place at Lytham, no less -- and believes it's past time for someone else to fill his shoes.
"Records are made to be broken," Jacklin said. "I wouldn't be surprised if that didn't end. We've got as good a chance of that ending this year as we've had in any other year since I won. We've got a lot of first-class players and high hopes for them."
The English haven't been totally shut out since Jacklin's
The crowds at Lytham figure to get especially loud and rowdy if someone such as Westwood or Donald goes to the weekend in serious contention for the claret jug. That worked in Jacklin's favor back in '69, but it also put a hefty amount of pressure on the home-country favorite.
"I'd never been so nervous," Jacklin recalled. "There was a lot of support. But at the same time, there's a responsibility that goes with it." If an Englishman is in the mix this time, his chances of winning could come down to how well he soaks up the support and blocks out the expectations.
"I know my game is good enough to win when I play well enough, play with everything together," Westwood said Tuesday morning. "So that's what I try to do. After that it's out of your hands."
Even though he attended college in the U.S., lives in suburban Chicago and plays regularly on the PGA Tour, Donald is looking for a home-style advantage at Lytham.
"This course has some history with Jacklin winning it," he said. "Hopefully that will prove to be lucky for us."
Then again, none of the top English players has ever won a major title. Westwood has come closest, a runner-up at both the Masters and the British Open two years ago, not to mention third-place finishes in the other two majors. He's rated by Jacklin as the most likely to break through but, at age 39, he's got to be very much aware that his window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller.
"This should suit him down to the ground, the conditions of the golf course and the way it's playing. But you never know," Jacklin said. "He's got all the experience in the world, and he's surely up for it, but at 39 or whatever he is, the clock is ticking. I keep my fingers crossed for him, because I think he really deserves it."
Donald has finished as high as third in a major a couple times, but he wasn't close to winning. He finished seven shots behind Tiger Woods at the 2005 Masters and was six shots off the pace (again trailing Woods) at the 2006 PGA Championship.
While Rose is also in the top 10, Jacklin didn't mention him as a likely winner. Instead, he pointed to Poulter, who seems to spend more time picking out his wardrobe and posting on Twitter than he does working on his swing.
Perhaps distracted by all those side pursuits, Jacklin stumbled a bit when bringing up Poulter.
"We've got the fancy dresser lad," Jacklin said. "What's his name?"
That won't be an issue for Poulter -- or any Englishman -- if one of them winds up holding the claret jug Sunday evening.
Thursday-Friday: ESPN, 2 a.m.-3 p.m., 4-7 p.m.; Saturday: ESPN2, 1-4 a.m.; ESPN, 4-11:30 a.m., 4-7 p.m.; ABC, noon-3 p.m. Sunday: ESPN, 3-10:30 a.m., ABC, noon-3 p.m.; ESPN2, 6-9 p.m.