Sunday, April 07, 2002

Augusta National fits Tiger to a tee

Adjustments won't deter defending champ

The Associated Press

Tiger donned the Master's green jacket in 2001.
(AP photo)
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        AUGUSTA, Ga. — The green jacket Tiger Woods slipped over his shoulders after winning his first Masters was a size 42 long. It was a loose fit for the 21-year-old champion, but that was by design.

        “A lot of the guys say they get larger as they get older,” Woods said.

        The same holds true for Augusta National Golf Club.

        About a month after Woods walked away from the Masters with his fourth straight major championship, the bulldozers moved in. Half of the 18 holes were lengthened. Bunkers were stretched and deepened. Tees were shifted to sharpen the doglegs. The result?

        A golf course built 70 years ago on a former nursery is all grown up.

   A hole-by-hole look at Augusta National Golf Club, site of the 66th Masters Thursday through April 14.

    No.1, 435 yards, par 4: Tees moved 25 yards back; fairway bunker down the right side extended 15 yards toward the green. Trees line the left side of the fairway.

    No.2, 575 yards, par 5: Dogleg left with bunker down the right side and two deep bunkers guarding the green.

    No.3, 350 yards, par 4: Four bunkers down the left side make the landing area tight. Steep ridge guards L-shaped green that slopes right to left.

    No.4, 205 yards, par 3: Deep bunker guards front of the green, with another bunker to the left. Green slopes to the front, and wind can be difficult to gauge.

    No.5, 435 yards, par 4: Uphill, dogleg left with two fairway bunkers at the neck. Green slopes to the front, with bunker in the back.

    No.6, 180 yards, par 3: Downhill shot to an undulating green, where the elevation from back right to front left is severe.

    No.7, 410 yards, par 4: Tee moved back 45 yards. Trees line both sides, with five bunkers surrounding elevated green.

    No.8, 570 yards, par 5: Tees moved back 10 yards and slightly to the right. Bunker on the right side of the fairway squeezes the landing area. Uphill hole makes for a blind shot to the green for the big hitters.

    No.9, 460 yards, par 4: Tees moved back 30 yards, dogleg left down the hill. Green slopes severely from back to front, with two bunkers left of the green.

    No.10, 495 yards, par 4: Tees moved back 10 yards and to the left 5 yards, making it a more severe dogleg left down a hill. Green is elevated with bunker on the right side.

    No.11, 490 yards, par 4: Tees moved back 35 yards and to the left 5 yards. Pond to the left of the green, with a bunker in the back.

    No.12, 155 yards, par 3: Toughest wind to gauge on the course. Rae's Creek fronts the green, with two bunkers behind and one bunker in front.

    No.13, 510 yards, par 5: Tees moved back 25 yards. Dogleg left, with a tributary of Rae's Creek winding in front and behind the green.

    No.14, 440 yards, par 4: Tees moved back 35 yards on the only hole without a bunker, compensated for with a severely undulating green.

    No.15, 500 yards, par 5: Reachable in two, depending on the wind. A cluster of pines down the right side of the fairway. A pond guards the front of the green with a bunker to the right.

    No.16, 170 yards, par 3: All carry over water to green that slopes severely from right to left, and two bunkers right of the green.

    No.17, 425 yards, par 4: The “Eisenhower” pine stands left-center of the fairway, about 195 yards off the tee. Two bunkers in front of the green.

    No.18, 465 yards, par 4: Tees moved back 60 yards, with double bunker down the left side that require a 335-yard carry. Trees jut out on the right side. Bunker front left and right of the green.

        “Every year, you always see small adjustments,” two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw said. “This year, we're in for something entirely different.”

        Woods is the defending champion when the 66th Masters begins this week. Jack Nicklaus has a bad back and will not play for only the second time in 44 years. Greg Norman has been offered another chance at a green jacket. Phil Mickelson still hasn't won a major.

        Everything else about this year's Masters is uncertain. The anticipation building for this year's tournament is not so much who will win, but how.

        “You've got to play well now to break 70,” Ernie Els said. “If we have a little weather come through, you could see even par winning if it's tough.”

        Augusta still blends the majestic beauty of its azaleas and dogwoods with the most frightening putting surfaces on earth, so slick and severe that sometimes a player has to putt with his back to the hole if he winds up in the wrong spot.

        Now, imagine trying to hit into those contoured greens with longer clubs.

        “If I hit a good drive, I had a wedge to a front pin. Now it's a 6-iron, so that should tell you something,” former Masters champion Vijay Singh said about No.11, already one of the toughest par 4s at Augusta before an extra 35 yards stretched it to 490 yards.

        The fairway bunkers on Nos.1 and 18 were nothing more than a nuisance for the big hitters. Now, getting over them requires a drive that goes more than 300 yards in the air.

        The most significant change might be No.18, where the options off the tee on the uphill, 465-yard hole are simple — stay away from the double bunker on the left side, without getting too close to the pine trees on the right side.

        No wonder Woods thinks the course will play one or two shots harder — worse if there is a lot of wind, and there usually is at Augusta.

        “I don't think the scores will be as low,” Woods said. “Instead of making birdies and eagles on a lot of the holes, I think what you're going to find is par can be a good score.”

        Woods set the 72-hole record in the Masters when he won in 1997 at 18-under-par 270, despite a 40 on his opening nine holes. He completed his own version of the Grand Slam last year at 272 to defeat David Duval and Mickelson.

        Despite only one victory this year, Woods will be the favorite to win his third green jacket and join Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only repeat champions of the Masters. As for the other favorites, some believe the list is short.

        “If you're not considered a long hitter, you've got no chance — I mean, no chance,” Stuart Appleby said. “Otherwise, you'd have to be almost perfect, and Augusta doesn't let you stay perfect for four days.”

        Change this drastic at Augusta National was inevitable.

        Players have become more athletic. They get better training at a younger age. Combine that with rapid advances in equipment, and club chairman Hootie Johnson believed the course had no option but to get longer, stronger, tougher.

        Johnson was at Amen Corner last year when Mickelson hit a tee shot on the 455-yard 11th hole that stopped rolling next to a sprinkler. He ducked under the ropes to check the yardage on the sprinkler and found Mickelson had only 94 yards left to the green.

        The final straw was the final swing by Woods — a lob wedge from 75 yards away.

        Still, this isn't about “Tiger-proofing” the golf course. When asked if Augusta National would look like this if Woods had taken up a different sport, Johnson didn't hesitate.

        “The game called for the changes,” Johnson said. “It wasn't Tiger Woods.”

        I told Tiger when he was here, 'We're doing this for the young boys.' They're hitting the ball, all of them, over 300 yards.”

        That leads many to wonder whether the short knockers stand a chance. Crenshaw is among those who believe only a select group of players can seriously contend.

        Still, one myth about the Masters is that the course is suited for big hitters. Length never hurts, but it didn't stop Bernhard Langer (twice), Jose Maria Olazabal (twice), Nick Faldo (three times) or Mark O'Meara from winning.

        “It really doesn't matter if you're long or short at Augusta,” Woods said. “Whoever is playing well is going to be in contention. The long hitters do have an advantage of the par 5s because they can get there in two. But they've still got to putt.”


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