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No. 8 (par 4) looking back to the tee from the green. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

The Open, the only men's golf major to shut down last year amid the pandemic, returned today at Royal St. George's in Sandwich, England.

  • Favorites: Jon Rahm (+800) had the best opening odds, per Caesars, followed by Rory McIlroy (+1400), Brooks Koepka (+1500), Jordan Spieth (+1600) and Xander Schauffele (+1800).
  • Wild stat: Lee Westwood (+3500) is playing in his 88th major, the most ever without a win.
No. 18 (par 4). Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Storylines:

  • Two straight for Rahm? The red-hot Spaniard hopes to become the first player since Spieth in 2015 to win consecutive majors. Strange but true: Rahm was born with clubfoot (turned 90 degrees inward), which led to the development of his unique, short backswing.
  • All eyes on Bryson: DeChambeau's feud with Koepka is still very much alive, his game isn't well-suited to links golf and he's debuting a new caddie.
  • Packed gallery, strict protocols: 32,000 fans (80% capacity) will be permitted daily, the most since golf returned last June. Golfers must remain in four-person bubbles (caddie plus two staff) and go nowhere but their hotel and the course.
  • Pray for a "good draw": Lengthy daylight hours means everyone tees off from the first hole, creating a wide range of tee times. Depending on the traditionally-fickle weather throughout the day, The Open really could be about "the luck of the draw."
No. 5 (par 4), No. 6 (par 3) and No. 7 (par 5) along the coastline. Photo: David Cannon

The course: Royal St. George's, playing 7,189 yards with a par of 70, hosts The Open for the first time since 2011, and 15th overall — fourth most behind St. Andrews (29), Prestwick (24) and Muirfield (16).

  • Beware the bumps: St. George's fairways are peppered with mounds that ricochet balls into undesirable lies and leave players with blind iron shots.
  • Be resourceful: Those mounds, plus several deep pot bunkers and thick fescue, put an emphasis on resourcefulness. Look for players to use irons more frequently (tee shots) and creatively (bump-and-runs).
  • Get to know ... Paul Larsen, the head greenkeeper and this week's breakout star. He speaks lovingly about his course's grass composition to anyone who'll listen, offering helpful tidbits like "there's no place for rye on a links course." Thanks for the tip, Paul!

Go deeper:

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Why it matters: The region has several of the most biodiverse areas of the planet, but they are constantly threatened by logging, mining or aquifer overexploitation.

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Why it matters: As the U.S. Capitol faces its first large-scale security test since the deadly attack, House and Senate offices are taking precautionary measures to protect staff as well as lawmakers.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Thursday that the State Department is partnering with Welcome.US, an aid group helping to welcome and support Afghan refugees who fled their country for the U.S.

Why it matters: The partnership is part of the Biden administration's Operation Allies Welcome, which involves the processing and resettlement of the more than 65,000 Afghans evacuated during the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.