Players Anticipating New Augusta
''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.
A golf course built 70 years ago on a former nursery is all grown up.
''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 really play well now to break 70,'' Ernie Els said. ''If we have a little bit of weather come through ... you could see even par winning if it's really 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 Jack 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 of Australia 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 (balls, clubs, shafts), 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.'
Augusta National should test every skill from opening tee shot to the final approach. The premium is on driving, ball-striking, short game, putting and ' always ' thinking.
''I always thought the Masters was the toughest mentally, because there's always such a fine line between success and failure on every shot,'' Stewart Cink said. ''You're riding the knife's edge on every single shot.''
The greatest change of all could be the fireworks on the back nine Sunday at Augusta, where Nicklaus shot a 30 in 1986 to claim his sixth green jacket, and where Norman had a 40 during his horrific meltdown 10 years later.
Instead, the premium might be on par, just like in a U.S. Open, which is regarded as the toughest test in golf.
''You're going to see a lot more bogeys, that's for sure,'' Mark Calcavecchia said. ''And you're going to see a lot less birdies, especially coming down the stretch. It's going to be really tough and really long. That's what you want for your Masters champion.
''You don't want somebody slinging it around there and winning because he had a good week putting,'' he said. ''Whoever wins that tournament is going to have to have it all.'
More Masters News
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.