By DOUG FERGUSON
AP golf writer
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — The Old Course at St. Andrews will have a slightly new look when the British Open returns in 2015.
In the first significant changes to the home of golf in some 70 years, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and St. Andrews Links Trust have agreed on altering nine holes in a two-year project. Work already is under way on the first phase, which includes widening the famous Road Hole bunker by about 20 inches.
Three bunkers will be moved closer to the putting surface — two on the second hole, one on the fourth hole. Two bunkers well to the right of the second hole — close to the third tee — will be removed. On the third hole, one fairway bunker will be removed, and one will be added about 275 yards off the tee. Another bunker will be added on the short par-4 ninth hole, about 25 yards short and to the left of the green.
The corners of six greens will be recontoured, which includes lowering the back of the green on the par-3 11th hole. A large depression in the landing area of the seventh fairway will be filled and a slight mound created.
The man in charge of the work is golf course architect Martin Hawtree. The first phase involves the second, seventh, 11th and 17th holes. The second phase will start in the winter of 2013 and involve the third, fourth, sixth, ninth and 15th holes.
Tiger Woods, who set the scoring record at St. Andrews in 2000 at 19-under 269, said he could understand moving the bunkers on the second hole.
“We do use the pin over there on the back right, and if we get a left-to-right wind those bunkers really aren’t in play because they’re too close to the third tee,” Woods said Tuesday. “But I can see by moving those closer to the green that if we get a left-to-right wind, those bunkers now are in play, which is good, because that’s our miss anyway, that back pin over that bowl to give yourself an angle at that putt. I believe that’s a positive change.”
As for the 17th? Woods isn’t so sure.
“I think 17 is hard enough as it is,” he said. “I don’t think we need to make that bunker any deeper or bigger.”
The Old Course has gone through very limited changes over the years, except for lengthening it in 2005 to the point that one tee was actually located on another course.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said the changes are intended to make the elite players be more precise with their shots.
“While some holes have been lengthened on the Old Course in recent years, it has otherwise remained largely unaltered,” Dawson said. “The championship committee felt there was an opportunity to stiffen its defenses in some places to ensure it remains as challenging as ever to the professionals.”
Change on the Old Course is not unprecedented. Officials once lengthened the course and added bunkers out of concern that a new golf ball would lower scores. That was in 1905 with the introduction of the rubber-core Haskell ball.
Dawson anticipates criticism of the changes, though he called it a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“If they came to see me and walked out onto the course, I’m quite sure they would be fine with it,” he said.
• RYDER CUP BLUES: Steve Stricker had a harder time getting over the Ryder Cup than any other disappointment he has faced in 24 years as a pro, including those dark years when he lost his PGA Tour card.
Stricker and Tiger Woods didn’t win a match all week, and Stricker lost the singles match to Martin Kaymer that allowed Europe to retain the cup. Most painful was failing to get up-and-down from a standard chip behind the 17th hole.
“I feel a lot of responsibility there for not winning a point, Tiger and I not winning a point,” Stricker said Tuesday. “The first week or two it wasn’t much fun just trying to sleep, to tell you the truth. But yeah, that one hurts, and I think it still hurts a lot of us just because of how it all played out.”
Europe rallied from a four-point deficit on the last day to win the cup for the second straight time. Stricker still hasn’t watched highlights of the final day, even though he has been told everything fell into place for Europe.
Stricker has said there are plenty of failures in golf, and the key is how a player can pick himself back up. He went from having limited status on the PGA Tour to winning comeback player of the year — two years in a row — and reaching No. 2 in the world.
“When I struggled a lot with my game in the mid-2000s, that was disappointing, but the only guy I was letting down was really myself,” he said. “It takes on a new level when you’ve got a team to deal with and you’re letting other guys down. I wish we could change it, but they did all the right things that day and we did some poor things that day. We’ll all learn from it and hopefully move on.” • RORY SCHEDULE: Rory McIlroy will cut back on the number of tournaments he plays, and while he didn’t want to say which ones he will skip, he offered a few clues.
Singapore and Hong Kong are not on the 2013 schedule, and he played both this year. McIlroy also said he likely would not play the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn., the week before the U.S. Open. He added it this year because he had missed three straight cuts.
“I added that this year just to try to get a little bit more golf because I was only playing two-round tournaments,” McIlroy said.
He said his schedule leading up to the Masters would at least include Abu Dhabi, Match Play, the Honda Classic, Doral and the Houston Open. That would mean McIlroy does not play the Dubai Desert Classic next year.
His post-Masters schedule at least will include The Players Championship, which began his streak of missing cuts. He said this year the TPC Sawgrass was a course that he would have to figure out how to play, even if it took him 20 years.
“I’m determined,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’m a good enough player to get around that course. But yeah, I at least want to see what the weekend is like there.” • PAR IS YOUR FRIEND: What would happen if a PGA Tour player shot even par at every tournament? At the very least, he’d still have his card.
Throw out the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, the four major championships, and count the tournaments opposite the World Golf Championships. Count the money earned for finishing at even par. The total comes out to $817,142, which would be the equivalent of finishing 111th on the money list.
The biggest check for finishing a tournament at even par was $119,867 at the Memorial, followed by $113,750 at the AT&T National. Tiger Woods won both those events. • DIVOTS: The European Tour schedule features a couple of changes, including the Malaysian Open moving from one week after the Masters to the same week as the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Louis Oosthuizen is the defending champion in Malaysia. Also, the Omega Masters in Switzerland is no longer the starting point for Europeans earning Ryder Cup points. That distinction goes to the Wales Open. … The PGA Tour event in Mexico has a new title sponsor and a new date. The OHL Classic at Mayakoba, which had been opposite the Match Play Championship in late February, is moving to the back end of the new 2013-14 schedule. It will be played Nov. 14-17, and offer full FedEx Cup points. … Jake Higginbottom, the 19-year-old amateur from Australia who won the New Zealand Open last week, has turned pro for this week’s New South Wales PGA Championship. Higginbottom also will play the Australian Open and Australian PGA Championship.• STAT OF THE WEEK: Jeff Overton and Brendon de Jonge led the PGA Tour with most tournaments — four — in which they shot in the 60s all four rounds without winning. • FINAL WORD: “I know how it feels when you win a major championship, and it feels incredible. And that’s something that I would like to have happen again.” — Tiger Woods.