Big Changes Make for Little Birdies


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- This was one birdie that made Rocco Mediate feel kind of guilty.
Landing in the rough on the bulked-up No. 11, Mediate was hoping for a chance to save par. Instead, his 5-iron landed about 10 feet from the pin, giving him a surprisingly easy birdie on a ridiculously hard hole.
'You're not supposed to do that on that hole,' Mediate said. 'I actually kind of apologized to the hole as I left.'
The rest of the Masters field had a few things to say to the hole, too, few of them printable.
As part of the super-sizing at Augusta National, the holes getting the most attention -- make that criticism -- in Thursday's first round were the par-4 11th, a beast at 505 yards, and the 240-yard, par-3 No. 4. Bombers, dinkers, in-betweeners -- no one was immune.
The two holes were tough on everybody, just as Masters officials had hoped.
Mediate and Vijay Singh were the only players with birdies on 11, which ranked as the hardest hole of the day. More than a third of the 90-player field -- 38 golfers -- played it above par. There were four birdies on No. 4, and 26 players were above par.
'I think the golf course was pretty tough from the get-go,' said Singh, the leader at 5-under 67. 'If you don't hit good shots, you're going to make a number out there.'
Concerned that the course wasn't keeping up with today's big hitters, the club stretched the course by 520 yards since 1998, adding 155 yards this past winter. At 7,445 yards, it's the second-longest for a major after the 7,514-yard behemoth at Whistling Straits, site of the 2004 PGA Championship.
Two of the most drastic changes were made to Nos. 4 and 11, and it showed Thursday.
The tees on the 11th have been pushed back so the hole now measures 505 yards. While that's a healthy size for a par 4, the bigger challenge is the thicket of trees crowding the right rough and narrowing the fairway.
Players used to be able to cut around the dogleg by flying their drives over the right edge of the rough, then pick up a couple extra yards with a roll down the slope leading into the green. That left them with an easy wedge or short-iron shot to the green. With the new trees, though, golfers put the rough in play at their own peril. They couldn't get too far to the left, either, because of thicker woods and water guarding the green.
Most played it safe, putting their drives at the top of the ridge and hitting long-iron shots into the green.
'I think 11 is probably the hardest hole out there,' Retief Goosen said. 'You stand on the tee, and there's trees right, trees left and about 10 yards gap in between, and that's really all you see.'
On the par-3 No. 4, the tees were pushed back 35 yards. While some golfers could get away with a long iron off the tee, most went with a wood or a hybrid. Regardless of which club was chosen, it was a tough shot.
There are bunkers on the left and right sides below the greens, and there were plenty of players who spent time at the beach. Put too much on the swing or go one club too high, though, and you found yourself over the green.
Luke Donald spent almost five minutes consulting with his brother and caddie, Christian, on the tee before pulling out his hybrid 2-iron. After a couple of swings, he motioned for his brother to bring the bag back onto the tee.
'We were thinking of a hard three, but I thought that was struggling to get over the front bunker,' Donald said.
So Donald stuck with the 2 -- and promptly flew the green. He wound up with a bogey.
Arron Oberholser was one of the few players who mastered No. 4, a surprise considering he was so frustrated by the hole during Wednesday's practice round that he waved a white towel in surrender.
Oberholser's tee shot landed a foot on the fringe, leaving him with a 15-foot uphill putt that he rolled in for a rare birdie.
'I laughed when I made that putt because I was hitting 3-wood into that thing yesterday with the other wind,' Oberholser said. 'Today I hit my rescue, like a rescue club.'
For everyone who struggled on Nos. 4 and 11, there's more bad news: Pin placements are sure to get tougher as the weekend approaches. For as nasty as 11 played, imagine what it would be like if the pin was on the lower left-hand side, along the edge of the water.
Or if the pin on 4 was on the right side, just behind the bunker.
'The Masters tournament sets up their golf course exactly how they want to set it up because it's their tournament. If you don't want to abide by what they do, don't come,' Mediate said. 'If you can't do certain things around this golf course, you don't get to win. And if you don't like it, that's just how it is.
'It's whoever shoots a low score, I don't care how you shoot it.'
Related Links:
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