Organisers of The Open Championship have condensed the number of exemptions into this year’s event at Muirfield after almost having too many players last year at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

R&A chief executive, Peter Dawson, said “Last year at Lytham we were given something of a fright because the way the exemptions fell at one point we had 161 competitors, but because of scratching and injuries we got back down to our usual field of 156.”

Four changes have been made to the qualifying criteria.

The most significant of these involves the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and Alstom Open de France leading up to the Open and the European International Qualifier at Sunningdale.

There have also been changes to the Muirfield course.

New tees have been added on seven of the holes, taking the overall distance from 7,034 yards when Ernie Els won in 2002 to 7,192 yards (par 71) this summer.

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 other bunkers moved closer to the green.

“We are absolutely delighted to be back at Muirfield for the 16th time,” Dawson added. “It’s immensely popular with the players, but we will be setting the golf course up to challenge these golfers.”