Golf: Scared by just an inch of grass

Adding rough to the smooth has beefed up Augusta.
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The Independent Online
JUST IMAGINE this: Colin Montgomerie smiling like a Cheshire cat. He had 71 reasons to do so following the opening round of the 63rd Masters. The first 70 were for his score. His two-under-par effort was his lowest in the first round in eight Masters.

The 71st, and perhaps most significant, was the carpet of rough lining the edges of the expansive Augusta fairways. It is not much, mind you, 13/8in, up from just over half an inch on the fairways. But it is just enough to prevent players from gaining backspin on the ball on their approaches into the marble-top putting surfaces.

It is something Montgomerie, one of golf's most accurate drivers, embraces with the same warmth he would his children. "The course changes don't affect you if you're on the fairway," Montgomerie said. "But what does affect you is the rough."

Tough stuff, the rough. "It's probably the biggest part of the puzzle for me," said Scott McCarron, an early leader this year. "I missed a couple of fairways by a foot or two and had some difficult shots in. Every time you're in the rough it's a guessing game." The rough is not the only change. Two holes - 2 and 17 - have been lengthened considerably, two others - 11 and 15 - have been tweaked. They are part of the continuing efforts of the Augusta National Golf Club to Tiger-proof their course. And they are working.

Jose Maria Olazabal, the 1994 champion, believes the changes made the course play between one and two strokes harder. "Now anything under par is a good score," he said. Mark O'Meara agreed. "Do I think the changes had an impact?" he said. "Absolutely." As O'Meara knows, changes here are nothing new. "I remember Ken Venturi walking me around more than 10 years ago," the defending champion said. "He'd point out where this tee or that tee used to be; how this green or that green had slope added to it; how bunkers were moved. It's an on-going process." However, the 1999 alterations are the most significant since Augusta converted its greens to Bentgrass from Bermuda 20 years ago.

A new tee has stretched the downhill par-five second hole by 25 yards to 575 yards. The green is still reachable in two, but only by the most powerful players. A carry of 305 yards is required off the tee to clear the fairway bunker on the right. Few will try, including Davis Love, one of golf's longest hitters. He played a three-wood there for the first time on Thursday. "The strategy is to hit a three-wood short of the bunker, then a three-wood into a greenside bunker," Love said. "You'll certainly see fewer eagles there." There was just one in the first two rounds - when Lee Janzen holed a sand wedge from 100 yards on Thursday.

The green at the 11th, a 445-yard, downhill par-four, has been raised 3ft and two bunkers behind the green have been removed and replaced by a yawning one on the right, where many players bail out in order to avoid the pond to the left. "The change at 11 hasn't made much difference yet," Ernie Els said. "We'll see on Sunday when the pin is traditionally tucked long and left, near the pond. It will be a scary approach."

The spectator mounds down the right of the 500-yard, par-five 15th have gone the way of the woolly mammoth, replaced by 20 to 30 pine trees, some as tall as 35 feet, which place a premium on accuracy from the tee. "That's a big change," McCarron said. "I used to hit it up on the hill and kick it back into the fairway. That added length. The difference is a couple of clubs."

That has turned the 15th, statistically the easiest hole in Masters history (a stroke average of 4.786), into a tiger. The green was so firm and fast it gave players fits. "You can't hit it on the green with your second shot and you can't hit it on the green with your third," Love said.

Since the fairways on the 15th and the par-four 17th are adjacent, the same trees will block the approach from the right side of the 17th fairway. The 17th also has a new tee, adding 25 yards to its new distance of 425 yards, but not everyone is pleased. "Bobby Jones would turn over in his grave," Gary Player said. "The green was made to take no more than a six-iron. They have outsmarted themselves."

Dave Lagarde is golf correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper

THIRD ROUND TOTALS FROM THE US MASTERS AT AUGUSTA

(US unless stated; *denotes amateur)

209

JM Olazabal (Sp) 70 66 73

210

G Norman (Aus) 71 68 71

211

S Pate 71 75 65

D Love 69 72 70

212

C Franco (Par) 72 72 68

E Els (SA) 71 72 69

B Estes 71 72 69

L Janzen 70 69 73

213

S Elkington (Aus) 72 70

C Montgomerie (GB) 70 72 71

N Price (Zim) 69 72 72

S McCarron 69 68 76

214

L Westwood (GB) 75 71 68

T Woods 72 72 70

P Mickelson 74 69 71

B Langer (Ger) 76 66 72

215

B Faxon 74 73 68

M O'Meara 70 76 69

J Sluman 70 75 70

J Furyk 72 73 70

D Duval 71 74 70

S Cink 74 70 71

J Leonard 70 72 73

B Glasson 72 70 73

216

R Mediate 73 74 69

S Stricker 75 72 69

B Watts 73 73 70

I Woosnam (GB) 71 74 71

217

J Huston 74 72 71

B Jobe 72 71 74

B Chamblee 69 73 75

218

C Stadler 72 76 70

S Lyle (GB) 71 77 70

S Hoch 75 73 70

P Johansson (Swe) 75 72 71,

L Mize 76 70 72

T Lehman 73 72 73

T Herron 75 69 74

219

S Maruyama (Japan) 78 70 71

J Daly 72 76 71

V Singh (Fiji) 72 76 71

R Floyd 74 73 72

A Magee 70 77 72

C Perry 73 72 74

220

O Browne 74 74 72

B Andrade 76 72 72

*T McKnight 73 74 73

221

*M Kuchar 77 71 73

C Parry (Aus) 75 73 73

F Couples 74 71 76

222

*S Garcia (Sp) 72 75 75

J Haas 74 69 71

223

M Brooks 76 72 75

225

P Stewart 73 75 77

226

B Tway 75 73 78

*T Immelman (SA) 72 76 78

Missed cut: 149 F Zoeller 72 77; F Funk 76 73; T Bjorn (Den) 76 73; F Lickliter 72 77. 150 M Ozaki (Japan) 71 79; J Cook 76 74; S Appleby (Aus) 73 77; JP Hayes 76 74. 151 W Wood 79 72; J Parnevik (Swe) 74 77; C Coody 77 74; T Watson 74 77; P Sjoland (Swe) 76 75. 152 L Roberts 76 76; M Calcavecchia 75 77; *H Kuehne 74 78; P Azinger 74 78; G Hjertstedt (Swe) 74 78. 153 N Faldo (GB) 80 73; B Crenshaw 74 79; B Mayfair 78 75; D Clarke (GB) 75 78; C Pavin 75 78. 154 J Maggert 78 76; D Toms 78 76; S Verplank 78 76. 155 H Sutton 79 76; G Day 78 77; T Dodds (Nam) 78 77. 156 S Ballesteros (Sp) 78 78; S Jones 77 79. 158 G Player (SA) 79 79. 159 T Aaron 77 82. 161 A Palmer 83 78. 162 *J Miller 81 81. 166 J Durant 87 79. Withdrew: D Ford.

Retired: B Casper, G Brewer.

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