The Open Championship at Sandwich, Kent
PUBLISHED: 11:14 23 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:26 20 February 2013
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club unveils some surprises at Royal St George's and it's more bad news for Tiger Woods
The Open Championship at Sandwich, Kent
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club unveils some surprises at Royal St Georges and its more bad news for Tiger Woods
The 2003 Open Championship at Royal St Georges will be forever remembered for the moment when Thomas Bjorns dream of claiming the Claret Jug disappeared in a puff of sand when he fluffed his bunker shot at the 16th green.
His five at the par three after a meltdown in the bunker saw experienced BBC commentators freeze as the Danes second attempt to get out of the trap looked almost identical first effort.
Had he taken two or three shots? The meltdown that manifested itself further with another mistake at the 17th as a bogey five at the penultimate hole put the final nail in the coffin of his Open dream.
Those mistakes allowed unknown American Ben Curtis to spirit away the famous trophy from Sandwich, in Kent, to take back to his home in Kent, Ohio with a brave par at the last.
If Thomas Bjorn qualifies to play in Julys 140th Open Championship, he will face many mixed emotions should he find himself in the 156-strong field teeing it up in the 14th Open to be held there on 14 July Bastille Day.
Championship organisers, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, are not a body known for revolutions in the game, preferring considered and well-planned change.
So there were a few surprises when the key figures in this summers third Major golf championship unveiled the changes made to the links course, first opened for play on the North East Kent coast back in 1887.
Gone is Bjorns bunker replaced because it was not in play and now filled in and replaced by what promises to be a challenging swale that could catch just as many crucial shots come Sundays showdown among the worlds best players, who will hopefully contend.
Probably just as relieved when he returns to Sandwich next month will by former world number one Tiger Woods.
Eight years ago huge crowds followed Tiger in hope of seeing him claim a ninth Major and his first in more than a year after recovering from knee surgery earlier in the season.
He finished just two shots behind Curtis but that was after a nightmare start when he lost his ball on the first hole, despite a huge gallery and many officials and marshals being unable to locate Tigers Nike-emblazoned ball in the deep rough.
The R&A have denied widening the first fairway to avoid any such embarrassments, but no doubt Tiger still needs all the help he can get if he is to chalk up his 15th Major, still needing four more to match Jack Nicklaus record as the most successful-ever golfer in the games history.
Less than 30 per cent of all drives finishing on the first fairway in 2003, so the landing area has been widened by some 12 yards.
And forget Tigers woes fellow Yank Jerry Kelly took an 11 on the same hole and only finished two shots shy of the eventual shock winner.
But the bigger problem for Tiger is not the first hole, but the decision by the R&A to lengthen the course from 7,106 yards to 7,204 - but in doing so, the par has been revised down from a 71 to a 70.
Down the years lengthening the Augusta National course has not stopped Tiger winning four Green Jackets, and he has won the US Open three times on courses between 7,000 and 7,400 yards.
But here is the bad news for Woods and his followers, even if the thong has been diminished slightly by his off-course misdemeanours over the past 18 months.
Only one of his 14 Major wins was on a course with a par of 70 at Bethpage Black in 2002. In 2003, the par at Royal St Georges was extended from the 70 in 1993 when Greg Norman won with a record low score of 13-under, to a 71. That was achieved by making a change to the fourth, where players have to negotiate the biggest bunker on a championship course.
Critics argued that by extending it to a very short par five, just shy of 500 yards, took the traditional challenge out of the hole. Now, the hole will be played at 496 yards but with a par of four instead of five.
While few pros will be hitting their tee shots into the face of the towering bunker, finding the green in two will be a much stiffer challenge, depending on the wind each day.
Tiger historically makes his scores by making eagle threes, or birdie fours on par fives. Typically most golf courses he plays have four of them Sandwich will not offer such a scoring feast with just two par fives on the course the seventh and 14th.
So what other changes are in store for the players in this years Open, when a strong contingent of UK golfers including Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, US Open champion Graham McDowell, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter - will be expected to repeat their Ryder Cup heroics and give the British public their first UK winner since Paul Lawrie back in 1999? On the front nine, the par three third will be lengthened 30 yards to 240, while the seventh is extended from 532 to 564 yards.
The ninth has an extra 24 yards added to make it 412 yards but the toughest par four will be a toss-up between the fourth and the 15th which now measures 496 yards an extra 21 yards.
But the players should not despair. As well as making the first an easier start, the 17th and 18th fairways have also been made more receptive, answering some who say that Sandwichs rippled and undulating fairways have a tendency to punish too many good drives with unfair bounces into trouble.
Few players who have won that striking silver trophy down the years will admit they did not benefit some piece of luck at some stage over 72 holes. Drama is, as was evidenced down the back nine on Sunday at the Masters only two months ago, is what makes golf such a great sporting spectacle.
Whether Bjorn or Tiger can reverse their fortunes at Royal St Georges in a few weeks or not, millions will be captivated worldwide on events in a tiny corner of Kents coast.
CARD OF THE COURSE
1st par 4 442 yards
2nd par 4 426 yards
3rd par 3 239 yards
4th par 4 496 yards
5th par 4 416 yards
6th par 3 176 yards
7th par 5 573 yards
8th par 4 457 yards
9th par 4 410 yards
Out 3,635 yards par 35
10th par 4 412 yards
11th par 3 242 yards
12th par 4 379 yards
13th par 4 457 yards
14th par 5 545 yards
15th par 4 493 yards
16th par 3 161 yards
17th par 4 424 yards
18th par 4 456 yards
In 3,569 yards par 35
TOTAL 7,204 yards par 70
Season tickets (10-17 July) Before 30 June: 220, from July 1: 240
Before 30 June (after July 1), Sun 10 July 12.50 (15) Mon 11 July 22.50 (25) Tue 12 July 27.50 (30)
Wed 13 July 35 (40) Thu 14 July-Sun
17 July 55 (60) OAPs tickets 10-40 in advance, 10-45 after 1 July
16-21 year olds 5-22.50 in advance, 5-25 after 1 July
Under-16s admitted free with adult.
Reserved seat by 18th green (valid all four days of championship) 240 extra
International Marquee 40 per day plus entrance ticket
Car parking for week: 50
To book tickets tel: 01334 460000.
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