Players to face longer Open test at Royal St George's

Thomas Bjorn at Royal St George's in 2003
Thomas Bjorn finished second in 2003 after a disastrous final round

The world's top golfers will face a longer test at this year's Open Championship with the Royal St George's course being extended and par reduced.

More than 100 yards will be added to the course for the 14-17 July event, while par will go from 71 to 70.

Winner Ben Curtis was the only player to finish under par the last time the Open was held in Kent in 2003.

The fourth - with the bunker in front of the tee - will change from a 497-yard par five to a 495-yard par four.

Other changes to the course - hosting the Open for the 14th time - include lengthening the third by 30 yards to 240 yards, taking the seventh from 532 to 564 yards, while the ninth is up from 388 to 412 yards.

The main alteration on the back nine will be at the 15th as it is stretched from 475 yards to a 496-yard par four.

American Curtis, playing links golf for the first time, was the shock winner at Royal St George's eight years ago in his first major championship.

Thomas Bjorn had looked set to take victory at three ahead with four to play.

But the Dane bogeyed the 15th and went on to double-bogey the short 16th after needing three attempts to get out of a greenside bunker while he also dropped another shot on the 17th.

Bjorn shared second spot with Fijian Vijay Singh in 2003, while Tiger Woods was two shots back in joint-fourth place after starting the championship with a lost ball and a triple bogey seven.

However, the chances of Woods losing a ball with his first shot this year have been severely reduced as with less than 30% of all drives finishing on the fairway in 2003 the landing area has been widened by about 12 yards.

The fairways on the 17th and 18th have also been made more user friendly.

Royal and Ancient Club chief executive Peter Dawson explained: "Tiger's lost ball was not an influence - it was the overall statistic of 27-28%."

The par at Sandwich was 70 when the course hosted the Open in 1993. On that occasion tournament winner Greg Norman finished with an Open record of 267 - 13 under - which still stands.

That year South African Ernie Els also become the first player in Open history to have all four rounds under 70.

With over 180,000 spectators expect to head to Sandwich over the four days, extra train services have been set up from London.

Two direct, high-speed services per hour will go to Sandwich during the morning from St Pancras International and two services an hour back, from lunchtime onwards - reducing regular journey times by one hour.

Additional early-morning trains from St Pancras International will ensure that spectators can get to the course in time to watch the first groups tee-off. Supplementary trains on the mainline service, early in the morning, will run from Charing Cross and Victoria.

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