Golf: Muirfield changes set tough test for Open stars

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and the rest of the leading contenders for the British Open title have been set a tough task after organisers at this year's Muirfield venue added an extra 158 yards and plenty of rough to the course.

New tees have been added on seven of the holes, taking the overall distance of the course from 7,034 yards when Ernie Els won the Open there in 2002 to 7,192 yards, par 71 for this year's Championship from July 18-21.

The biggest difference is on the ninth, where a land swap with neighbours the Renaissance Club has enabled the tee to be moved back almost 50 yards -- extending the par-five to 554 yards -- with a new bunker added on the right of the fairway and bunkers moved closer to the green.

"We are absolutely delighted to be back at Muirfield for the 16th time," said the chief executive of golf's governing body the R&A, Peter Dawson.

"It's immensely popular with the players. Jack Nicklaus's comment about 'What you see is what you get' at Muirfield was perhaps directed at other links courses with blind shots and where more luck is involved.

"The ground here is relatively flat and every hole seems to be going in a different direction but we will be setting the golf course up to challenge these golfers.

"The rough has been cut down over the winter but will regenerate over the coming weeks. We will see the rough up and you are unlikely to win an Open Championship at Muirfield from the rough.

"The amount of rough is weather-dependent but we will get plenty.

"It has been lengthened by 158 yards since 2002 but that is only a two percent increase."

Meanwhile, the R&A has made four changes to the qualification criteria for the Open.

The first two involve the European Tour's French Open and PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic being dropped from the list of 29 different qualifying criteria.

The Japan Tour has also been hit by the changes. In the past the top two finishers on the Japan Tour Order of Merit, not already exempt, were afforded automatic entry to The Open.

"That scenario could take you down to the third and fourth player on the Japan money list," said Dawson.

"But we've cut that back to just the top two only, whether they are previously exempt or not.

"The last change is that the number of qualifiers from the International Final Qualifier at Sunningdale has been reduced from 10 to nine," he added.