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Going the distance

The host course for this summer's Open Championship will be 100 yards longer than it was for the 2003 Open won by Ben Curtis. In addition, several fairways are being made more user-friendly for the golfers.

Peter Dawson

R&A chief Peter Dawson posed with the Claret Jug at Royal St. George's, which will host its 14th Open Championship in July. (Getty Images)

SANDWICH, England (PA Sport and AP) -- The Royal St. George’s course will be 100 yards longer for this year’s British Open, with par being reduced from 71 to 70.

Organizers say the famous fourth hole -- with a huge bunker staring players in the face as they tee off -- is being changed from a 497-yard par 5 to a 495-yard par 4.

The third hole will be increased by 30 yards to 240 yards, while the long seventh goes from 532 to 564 yards and the ninth from 388 to 412 yards. In the main alteration on the back nine, the 15th will be stretched from 475 yards to a 496-yard par 4. The fairways on Nos. 17 and 18 also have been made more user-friendly.

Eight years ago, American winner Ben Curtis was the only player to break par at the course, and only by one shot. The previous time, in 1983, Greg Norman set a championship record of 13-under 267.

In another change, the fairway on the first hole has been widened by about 12 yards. In 2003, Tiger Woods lost a ball with his first shot at Royal St. George’s and took a triple-bogey 7 and finished two shots behind Curtis. Also on that hole that week, Jerry Kelly had an 11, as less than 30 percent of all drives finished on the fairway in 2003.

“Tiger’s lost ball was not an influence -- it was the overall statistic of 27-28 percent,” said Royal & Ancient Club Chief Executive Peter Dawson.

Curtis won the Claret Jug in what was not only the first major championship he had played, but also the first time he had played links golf. But the 2003 Open at Royal St. George's will also be remembered for Thomas Bjorn's collapse from three ahead with four to play.

The Dane bogeyed the 15th, double-bogeyed the short 16th after needing three attempts to get out of a greenside bunker and dropped another shot on the 17th --  scene of his quadruple-bogey 8 on the opening day. Bjorn ended up sharing second with Vijay Singh, while Woods tied for fourth.

It was a very different story the previous time Sandwich hosted the event. That was in 1993 and Greg Norman set an Open record of 267 -- 13 under with a par of 70 that year -- which still stands to this day.

Low scoring was the name of the game that week with runner-up Nick Faldo and Payne Stewart equalling the major record of 63 and Ernie Els becoming the first player in Open history to have all four rounds under 70.  In contrast, nobody scored lower than the 67s by Faldo and Swede Pierre Fulke eight years ago while Curtis (-1) was the only player to end the tournament under par.

Royal St. George's was the first venue to host a British Open outside Scotland. This will be the 14th time it has staged the event, with the action getting underway on July 14.