March 14, 2006

Woods, Els, Nicklaus voice mixed Augusta opinions

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Tiger Woods had mixed feelings and
Ernie Els liked what he saw after making their first visits to
the lengthened Augusta National, venue for next month's U.S.

Golfing greats Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, however,
believe organizers have gone too far in extending and
tightening Augusta for the April 6-9 tournament.

The famous par-72 layout has been stretched an extra 155
yards, making it the second longest course in major
championship history at 7,445 yards.

"It will be a big challenge if the golf course plays fast,"
world number one Woods was quoted as saying on his official Web
site on Tuesday, having played at Augusta two days earlier.

"If the fairways are firm and they're running, then I can
see it being a great test.

"But if they're soft, then I think it eliminates a lot of
guys that have the skill to play but they just don't hit the
ball far enough.

"You just need to make it fair for all the rest of the
competitors, as well."

Six holes have been lengthened since Woods clinched his
fourth Masters title last year, with the tees at the par-four
first, par-three fourth, par-four seventh and 11th, par-five
15th and par-four 17th all moved back.


Woods, who visited the course on Sunday with his financial
advisor Christopher Hubman and Atlanta Braves pitcher John
Smoltz, said he failed to reach the green with a three-iron
from the new tee at the 240-yard fourth.

His best drive came at the par-five 15th, where he reached
the green in two, using a five-iron for his second.

Nicklaus, who won the Masters a record six times between
1963 and 1986, told the April edition of Golf Digest magazine:
"I think they've ruined it from a tournament standpoint.

"Augusta has meant a ton to me in my lifetime. It's a big,
big part of my life, and I love it. That's why I hate to see
them change it.

"They've totally eliminated what Bobby Jones tried to do in
the game of golf."

American Jones created the Masters and designed Augusta
National with Alister Mackenzie.

"Bobby Jones believed golf was primarily a second-shot
game," added Nicklaus, who is concerned over the narrowing of
some of the fairways with extra bunkering, trees and rough.


"He believed that you should have enough room to drive the
ball on to the fairway, but if you put it on the correct side
of the fairway, you had an advantage to put the ball toward the

"He wanted to give you a chance to do that shot."

Palmer, a four-times Masters champion, said: "I love the
place, just love everything that happens there.

"But now, I'm not so sure. It's changed dramatically from
the course I knew the last 50 years."

However, South African Els enjoyed his two days of practice
at Augusta National last week.

"I'd already read some of the press coverage and chatted
with a few guys who've been there recently, so I kind of knew
what to expect," the three-times major winner said on his Web

"But it was great to see it for myself. I must say I love
the changes they've made and, as you'd expect, it was in great
shape, too.

"I really had a great couple of days there, and the weather
was perfect."