Changes Shorten List of Contenders


Even the optimists have reservations. Those who cling to the hope that they can actually win the Masters Tournament have within them the understanding of a Realist.
I wouldnt say that Im not able to win the golf tournament, said Jim Furyk, but its more difficult now than it was 10 years ago.
Ten years ago, Augusta National measured 6,925 yards, just as it did 62 years prior, when the tournament was first played and won by Horton Smith.
Tiger Woods
Many players believe Augusta's latest changes have only made it easier for Tiger Woods to win more green jackets.
Over the years, club officials have made innumerable alterations to the course. But it wasnt until the 1999 competition ' two years after Tiger Woods won with a record 18-under total ' that length was added to the overall count. It was just 60 yards then, as well as a second cut of rough. Three years later it was another 185 yards. The next year, another 20. And now, for this weeks edition, the 70th overall, there is an additional 155 yards, bringing the new total to 7,445.
Since the first Masters in 1934, this golf course has evolved, and that process continues today, said Hootie Johnson, club chairman at Augusta National, in a statement. As in the past, our objective is to maintain the integrity and shot values of the golf course as envisioned by (architects) Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie.
Augusta National, golfs green Mecca, is now golfs Green Monster.
Where it used to be kind of the most fun of all the majors, said Ernie Els, its becoming the hardest now.
If the conditions are firm, said four-time winner and defending champion Tiger Woods, that golf course is probably the most difficult golf course youll ever play.
Distance-wise, six holes have been stretched for this year: the par-4 first (435 to 455); par-3 fourth (205 to 240); par-4 seventh (410 to 450); par-4 11th (490 to 505); par-5 15th (500 to 530); and par-4 17th (425 to 440).
I dont mind them lengthening the golf course, 2003 champion Mike Weir said. But, I dont think they should have rough; I dont think they should have all the (new) tees that theyve put in; I dont think they need all of the trees where they put them.
In addition to the additional distance, some fairways have been narrowed, more pine trees planted, and certain angles of attack completely eliminated.
Most of the premium was on iron shots and short game. I think that has changed, said two-time champion Bernhard Langer. Its still a great tournament, but its a different golf course.
I heard them say that they want it to play like it used to play. I dont know if theyve done that.
Langer believes that the changes are playing right into the hands of the longer hitter. Fellow two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal thinks the big boppers 'will have the hugest smile from ear to ear. And theyre not alone in their belief. In fact, there are few who would bother to disagree ' even the bombers.
It eliminates a lot of guys, Woods said about the recent changes.
The short-but-straight Fred Funk, the man who survived to win the 2005 Players Championship, harbors no delusion of grandeur for this week.
No, he said flatly when asked if he could win.
There are probably 25 to 30 guys playing long enough to have a chance. Of those 25 to 30 guys, theres probably five or six who have the mental ability to win. And out of those five or six, theres just one whos going to win.
That one, Funk believes, will be Woods.
If they want Tiger to win every year, then they got it with the changes theyve made.
Others arent ready to write themselves off just yet. They are optimist. And realists.
That was the thought when I won in 2003, that only a longer hitter could win, said Weir. But anybody whos playing good, making putts, wedging it well is going to have a shot.
Of course, the longer player will always have an advantage, because theyre going to have shorter clubs in (to the greens).
I wouldnt make the statement that theres only five or six people who can win the tournament, said Furyk. But, absolutely, youve probably eliminated a few people and narrowed the odds on a lot of people.
Arnold Palmer won the Masters four times and felt that he should have won it even more than that. Then again, no one ever gave him much of a chance to ever win one green jacket, not with his low ball flight. But, as Palmer recently said, The desire to win at Augusta was as great as the lack of maybe game to do it. I learned how to win there.
Desire and fight will allow certain players to hang in there for a little while, but Els feels they will be filtered out as the event progresses.
Over four days of competition, its going to narrow the field dramatically, Els said about the course length. You might see more tournaments like we had last year where a couple of guys break away, and its kind of two different tournaments within a tournament kind of thing.
Last year, Woods and Chris DiMarco ended regulation knotted at 12 under, seven shots clear of third place. Sixteen players managed to break par ' and the course was once again playing soft due to rain on Thursday and Friday.
Many believe that if the course plays dry ' which it did in last years practice rounds, but hasnt done during actual competition since the major renovations began taking place four years ago ' that no one will finish in red numbers.
We havent seen the greens hard and fast, said Woods. With or without the rain last year, we were thinking in the practice round that over par is going to win the tournament. If you can keep it around even par, youre going to win easily. This year, if it stays dry, probably the same thing.
Woods played the course prior to this week; so, too, did Els. When asked about the changes, Els laughed and said, They are quite major. Woods called them, interesting, very interesting.
In sharing their experiences, Els said he hit 2-iron into the green at the 240-yard, par-3 fourth; Woods, who doesnt carry a 2-iron, hit 3-iron and came up short. Both players are thinking about putting a 5-wood into their bags.
Ive talked to some of the older guys, who played there back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and they never had to hit (a) wood into (No.) 4 before, but youll see a lot of guys hitting wood into 4 this year, said Woods.
Johnson and the Green Jackets want their tournament, their course to play like it did when Byron Nelson won it, when Jack Nicklaus won it, when Nick Faldo won it. They say that they are making changes out of necessity, in order to hold true to Bobby Jones original vision.
They think theyve done that. Not everyone agrees.
Its becoming more like a U.S. Open instead of the Masters, Weir said. I dont think this is what Bobby Jones envisioned.
Said Olazabal, who doesnt even know if he could win on the current set-up during his prime, Nowadays, the golf course is completely different to when I started playing there in the late 80s and all through the 90s.
We have seen the direction they have taken, he added, and time will tell if they are right or wrong.
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