When the 141st Open Championship begins Thursday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, it could play decidedly tougher than it did in 2001, when David Duval posted a 72-hole score of 10-under 274 to beat Niclas Fasth by three strokes. Seven holes have been lengthened, stretching the layout to 7,086 yards, and par has been reduced from 71 to 70.
The added distance will bring more of the 205 bunkers (originally 206, but apparently one new bunker wasn't completed in time for the championship) into play, and make contestants think twice about what club selection they will use off the tee. There are at least six bunkers on every hole except Nos. 5 and 12, which have five.
Asked which bunker he would most like to avoid, three-time winner Tiger Woods said, "All of them."
Added Englishman Luke Donald, "Well, you do feel a bit claustrophobic on a lot of holes. They're everywhere."
It has been a wet spring and summer in England. It rained Tuesday and Wednesday, and more is in the forecast for the first three rounds, which will hinder players from spinning the ball from the sand around the greens. In addition, native grass is lush, green and thick, meaning wayward shots may never be found.
"The first two times I played here [1996 and 2001], it was fast and baked out," Woods said. "That's going to be a big change."
The course, located in northwest England about a mile inland from the Irish Sea and bordered by a railway line, can play differently every day, depending on the wind. Earlier this week, Woods hit driver and 7-iron to the 592-yard, par-5 seventh hole. The next day, he hit driver, 3-wood, wedge.
That's the beauty and challenge of links golf, in which conditions change frequently, forcing players to adjust on the fly. At Royal Lytham, accuracy off the tee is a must for any contender given the depth and steepness of the bunker faces and thickness of the rough. Don't be surprised to see participants play sideways or backwards out of the sand; it might be their only escape.
History has shown that good ball-strikers prevail at Royal Lytham. In 11 previous Opens, winners have included Bobby Jones in 1926, the first time the course hosted the championship; Bobby Locke in 1952; Peter Thomson in 1958; Bob Charles in 1963; Gary Player in 1974; Seve Ballesteros in 1979; and Tom Lehman in 1996.
Woods completed his final preparations Wednesday. Following his regular morning workout, the sun came out in the afternoon, allowing him to hit balls and work on his chipping, putting and bunker game. He also tweeted a happy birthday wish to Nelson Mandela.
Here is a brief hole-by-hole description of what players will face this week at Royal Lytham:
No. 1, 205 yards, par 3: This is the only course in The Open Championship rotation that features a par-3 starting hole. The green is guarded by nine bunkers, and wind makes club selection tricky. Lanny Wadkins made a hole-in-one here in 1988.
No. 2, 481 yards, par 4: This hole has been extended 43 yards from 2001. Three pot bunkers are sprinkled down the right side of the fairway and require a 265-yard carry to clear, and a dune has been addded along the left side to tighten the landing area. The green slopes from left to right and is well protected by three bunkers.
No. 3, 478 yards, par 4: One of the hardest holes in 2001. The tee has been lengthened by 20 yards and drives must avoid two fairway bunkers on the left and the railway (which is out of bounds) on the right.
No. 4, 392 yards, par 4: This dogleg left winds back toward the clubhouse and is the only par-4 on the front nine under 400 yards. There are 12 bunkers, seven off the tee and five around the green.
No. 5, 219 yards, par 3: The longest of the par-3s, the hole has been lengthened by seven yards and plays longer than it appears due to "dead ground" in front of the green. The dome-shaped putting surface is well guarded by bunkers on both sides. Jack Nicklaus made an ace here in 1979.
No. 6, 492 yards, par 4: This severe dogleg left was played as a par-5 in 2001 and was the easiest in the championship. The key to the hole is avoiding four cross bunkers short of the green and five around the putting surface.
No. 7, 592 yards, par 5: The green has been pushed back 35 yards and to the left from 2001, when Woods reached it three times with a driver and a 9-iron. The hole meanders slightly to the right, and the green is located between an opening in the dunes. It should be a good birdie opportunity.
No. 8, 416 yards, par 4: An elevated tee with out-of-bounds on the right. The green is situated on top of a dune, requiring an uphill approach over three cross-bunkers. A deep bunker left of the putting surface is especially menacing.
No. 9, 165 yards, par 3: The shortest hole on the course is no pushover. The green slopes from back-left to front-right and is guarded by nine bunkers.
No. 10, 386 yards, par 4: Usually played into the wind, the hole starts the inward trek back toward the clubhouse and has been lengthened by 52 yards. A new fairway bunker has been added on each side. It features a tricky uphill approach shot to a well-bunkered green.
No. 11, 598 yards, par 5: The new tee atop the dunes has added 56 yards on this subtle dogleg left. The green is slightly elevated, making this a three-shot hole for most players.
No. 12, 198 yards, par 3: A testy hole due to tight out-of-bounds territory on the right and six nasty, greenside bunkers. A par here is golden.
No. 13, 355 yards, par 4: Depending on the wind, this risk-and-reward hole could be driveable for some players and has been extended by 13 yards. However, 15 bunkers are strategically placed from tee to green.
No. 14, 444 yards, par 4: A tough tee shot must contend with bunkers and dunes on the right and a new fairway bunker on the left. Out-of-bounds lurks on the right for errant approach shots to this difficult-to-hit green, which is fronted by a swale.
No. 15, 462 yards, par 4: The most difficult hole in 2001, this is the longest of the six closing par-4s and usually plays into the teeth of the wind. Seven fairway bunkers are scattered along each side of the fairway, making this one of toughest driving holes on the course. The semi-blind second shot is no bargain, either.
No. 16, 336 yards, par 4: Left is best for this blind tee shot on the shortest par-4 on the course. Bunkers come into play from tee to green. In 1979, Ballesteros hit a remarkable 9-iron from a carpark in a television compound within two feet of the hole for an easy birdie to help clinch the first of his three Open triumphs.
No. 17, 453 yards, par 4: This sharp dogleg left demands an accurate drive to the small landing area while avoiding bunkers on the left and thick bushes on the right. The second shot must carry rough ground, and the green is flanked by bunkers.
No. 18, 413 yards, par 4: The finishing hole known as the "Sea of Sand," it features 17 bunkers, including two new additions along the right side of the fairway. The right side offers the best approach to the green that is sandwiched between seven bunkers, one of which has been moved up to collect errant shots.