British Open will feature wider fairways

Tiger Woods during the 2010 British Open.

Tiger Woods during the 2010 British Open.

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SANDWICH, England - The world’s best golfers will find a wider, more generous Royal St. George’s when they tee it up in the 140th Open Championship. They shouldn’t get too complacent, though, course changes mean England’s most southerly Open Championship venue will still have teeth.

photo

Ben Curtis posted 2-under 70 Saturday at Bay Hill.

Royal St. George’s will measure 105 yards longer than it did when Ben Curtis won here in 2003, with significant lengthening of at least three holes. More importantly, the course will play this year to a par of 70 as opposed to 71 eight years ago.

Royal St. George’s might be the most quintessential of all Open Championship venues. The humps and hollows associated with links golf are very much part and parcel of the links of Sandwich, stage for 13 Open Championships stretching back to 1894.

J.H. Taylor won the first Open at Royal St George’s, the first Open to be stage outside of Scotland. No doubt the links then were more in tune with hickory and persimmon. Royal St. George’s hasn’t always meshed well with modern golf.

The Royal St. George’s fairways don’t always welcome a good tee shot. The ripples and rolls, humps and hollows can redirect a well-struck shot into the rough. Needless to say, the rub of the green comes more into play at St George’s than at most Open venues.

Jack Nicklaus had no love for Royal St. George’s because of its apparent unfairness. The Golden Bear once said Open Championship courses got worse the further south you go in the British Isles. You can’t go any further south than Royal St. George’s.

Tiger Woods might well agree with Nicklaus’ assessment. Woods finished joint fourth in 2003, two shots behind Curtis. Woods might have won if not for a lost ball on the very first hole which cost him a triple-bogey seven.

Woods should have an easier time finding the short grass at the first hole this year thanks to a bigger fairway. The R&A has widened the fairway by 12 yards to help more players find the short grass.

The 1st hole is one of three fairways that have been widened. The 17th and 18th are the others.

“Our decision (to widen the fairways) had nothing to do with Tiger’s lost ball,” said Peter Dawson, R&A chief executive. “We were concerned that too many players were missing some fairways.”

Among the most significant changes to the length of the holes is the 30 yards added to the par-3, 3rd hole. It will now play as a 240-yard one shot hole.

Twenty-four yards have been added to the par-4, 9th, turning it into a 412-yard hole. Meanwhile, the 21 yards has been added to the 15th, turning it into a tough 496-yard par-4.

The most significant change comes at the fourth hole. In 2003 it played as a 497-yard par 5. This year it will play as a 495-yard par four. That change is responsible for reducing par from 71 to 70.

Curtis won his only major back in 2003 with a 1-under-par total of 283. He was the only player to break par over the four days, finishing a stroke ahead of Thomas Bjorn and Vijay Singh.

Given the changes the R&A has made for this year’s championship, don’t be surprised if a similar score wins the 14th Open Championship at Royal St. George’s.

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