April 16 - Charles Barkley should sit down for tea with Colin Montgomerie. About a month before the Masters, the former NBA star accused Augusta National of “blatant racism” for making its golf course longer and tougher than ever. Barkley somehow figured the changes would make it more difficult on Tiger Woods. Everyone else knew better.
It was bad enough that Augusta added 285 yards by redesigning half of the holes. Montgomerie said some of the fairways had not been mowed and the tees were pushed back as far as they could go without bumping into the gallery.
“I’ve never played a longer course,” he said. “I think they want someone to win this thing, and they’re doing a very good job of it.”
Montgomerie isn’t the first to recommend that courses become shorter, not longer.
He said the best way to “Tiger-proof” Augusta National was to make every hole like the shortest one on the course, No. 3, a 350-yard par 4.
It demands accuracy off the tee, provides a risk-reward factor for big hitters who try to clear the four bunkers and get close to the green, requires perfect distance control to the green and a skillful touch with the putter.
By the way, Woods birdied the third hole on Sunday to take a three-stroke lead that sent him on his way to another green jacket.
Back to the drawing board.
“He’s just very, very good,” Montgomerie concluded. “He’s the best player we have right now. And he wins.”
And there’s nothing Augusta National can do about that.
Despite all the changes to the course, despite the quality of contenders - five of the top seven in the world ranking, three of them multiple major winners - Woods won because he is simply that much better than anyone else.
That’s why, at age 26, he is the youngest player in golf history to have won 31 times on the PGA Tour, to have won seven majors, to have won three green jackets.
Clearly, big hitters had an advantage at redesigned Augusta, but that was more because the fairways were soft, spongy and didn’t allow for any roll.
To suggest that Woods has won three Masters because the course is perfectly tailored for him is to ignore the completeness of his game - driving, ball-striking, short game, putting, mental toughness.
InsertArt(1455014)If length was everything at this Masters, consider that Woods was only 7 under on the par 5s. Six other players had a better performance on the longest holes, including Stewart Cink and Mark Brooks.
One statistic that hardly ever lies is that Masters champions rarely three-putt, indicating they keep the ball in the right position on the contoured greens. Woods did that only once, on the fifth hole Sunday, after hitting a hard hook with a 4-iron from out of the trees that rolled to the front of the green, 70 feet away.
As for putting?
Woods crept into contention Saturday morning by making four par-saving putts of at least 6 feet on his final eight holes of the second round. Then, he hit 15 greens and took only 27 putts in the third round for a 66 to grab a share of the lead.
And on Sunday, he seized control by making putts of 6, 10 and 10 feet on the first four holes. The last one was for par on No. 4, the same hole where Phil Mickelson went over the green and made bogey, where Retief Goosen went to the opposite side of the green and made bogey, where Sergio Garcia went into the bunker and made bogey.
“I made some good putts when I really needed them,” Woods said. “I was able to somehow finagle a way to get up-and-down and save a lot of pars this week.”
The full measure of the new Augusta will not be known for a couple of more years, after the Masters has been played in a variety of conditions. It was so crusty and firm during the first two practice rounds that some predicted a winning score close to even par.
Plus, there was hardly any wind throughout the week.
Still, there is no question the new Augusta is a brute. Even though three days of rain allowed player to attack some of the pins, there were only 14 rounds in the 60s all week, compared with 49 sub-70 rounds a year ago.
Only 17 players were under par at the end of the week, down from 30 last year.
Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said the biggest reason behind the changes was not so much the scoring, but the clubs players were hitting into the par 4s, especially the 60-degree sand wedge Woods had for his second shot on No. 18 last year.
The last question Woods was asked Sunday night before he left was what club he hit into the 18th green. It was a 7-iron.
Hootie got his wish.
Tiger got another green jacket.
© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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