Golf

Players still not warming to changes at Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Anticipation is higher than it has been in years at the Masters, with Tiger Woods a winner again after knee surgery and Padraig Harrington going for a third straight major.

But the buzz at Augusta National has been tempered by three years of more teeth-gnashing than fist-pumping.

Birdies have been replaced by bogeys.

Players are becoming more vocal in their criticism of a course that has produced so much excitement from so many charges over the years. They say it has become too long, too tough.

"Criticism hurts a little bit," Masters chairman Billy Payne said Wednesday. "It's like when you go to a piano recital of one of your granddaughters and you hear somebody say, 'Boy, that's the worst kid I've ever seen.' It hurts your feelings."

Payne responded by making the course shorter — by 10 yards.

The club also enlarged the tee boxes on the par-4 seventh and par-5 15th, allowing officials to move the tees forward a little to make the hole play slightly shorter.

Otherwise, a club that tries to control so much can only hope Mother Nature is on its side.

Spring felt like winter two years ago when Zach Johnson became the first Masters champion in more than 50 years to finish over par. A year ago, whipping wind sent Trevor Immelman to a 75, matching the highest final round by a winner.

"The golf course has changed quite a bit," Woods said. "Your strategy has changed. You don't go out there looking to shoot super-low rounds because they are not out there anymore, especially with these conditions that we've had the last two years."

How much has it changed?

More than 510 yards have been added since Woods captured his first green jacket in 1997. Augusta National used to mow one half of the fairway toward the green and the other half toward the tee. It was advantageous — and risky — to hit the side of the fairway mowed toward the green because the ball would roll more. Now the entire fairway is mowed toward the tee.

Payne believes the changes, courtesy of former chairman Hootie Johnson, will be proven correct in years to come. He just needs some good weather to state his case.

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