Early reports indicate that the course is decidedly tougher. What was so great about Augusta, said three-time champion Nick Faldo, is you had to land the ball on the number ' they gave you one yard to work with. Now, if they expect us to do that, we will have to do it three clubs' further back than before. It could get serious.
Vijay Singh thinks it is going to be very difficult. Hes no slouch when it comes to the driver, and he was hitting a mid-iron or a long-iron to an mind-numbing array of holes. He played the course in November after the changes had been made, and it didnt look much like the Augusta he remembered.
Were going to be aiming at some of the toughest greens in the world with longer irons, and that is the biggest difference right there, he said. Youre going in with middle-to-long irons instead of middle-to-short irons. On those greens, its very difficult.
Ernie Els has also played the course with the revised changes. He believes most of the field will still be competitive. Experience still ranks as the most valuable trait one can have, but the course will definitely play longer.
With technology now, most of the guys can hit it a long way, said Els. Its just, are you happy with yourself hitting certain shots into those greens?
So I think a little bit of experience will help around that place ' especially when youre around the greens. I think the field will narrow down a little bit, but not as much as I first thought.
Hootie Johnson, the man charged with running the Masters, rode around the course while Singh was playing. Johnson carefully noted how Singh played the holes, the clubs he hit into the greens and the clubs he hit off Augustas tees. Singh says that Johnson was relieved that the changes made for a golf course that was still playable.
He was a little bit apprehensive about the way its going to turn out, said Singh. But after coming around with me, he was very pleased with the changes.
Eighteen seems to be the one changed the most, now looming 465 yards uphill from 410. It was a big shock to Els, seeing it for the first time.
We used to hit, on a calm day, a wedge or 9-iron in there, he said. That wont happen now. Its a 6-iron, 5-iron, even a 4-iron in there now.
The same goes for No. 1. It was also a wedge on a good day, and now its probably a 5-iron or 6-iron. Those are huge major changes, and to hit those kind of irons into those slopey greens is going to be really difficult.
Singh laughed when he recalled the new No. 18. I hit a driver, 3-iron. So that should tell you, he said. Granted, there was no roll. They had a lot of rain. But if Im hitting 3-iron, I dont know about the rest of the guys.
Youve got to think of all your tee shots more than ever now, said Singh. It used to be just tee it up and hit it as far as you can.
'Now, you put a lot of premium in your tee shots. Youve got to hit the fairways. It favors the guys who are going to putt well, and obviously hit it straight and long.
Which was the reason, he said, that he shot a wedge and a number.
Mark Calcavecchia sees this as a perfect major venue.
You dont want somebody slinging it around there and winning the tournament because he had a good week putting, said Calc. Now, whoever wins the tournament is going to have it all.
Its going to be long, and you know youre just going to have to hit it great and putt great. But thats what you want in your Masters champion.
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