Faldo praises 'fantastic' new Augusta as Goosen revels in tough conditions

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The Independent Online

While Retief Goosen took a well-deserved day off after winning the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta on Sunday, many of the competitors in the 66th Masters just wanted to get their first look at the revamped Augusta National course. It took four construction crews two and a half months to build nine new tees, rebuild some bunkers, plant new trees and remove others.

Work could not begin until the course closed to its members for last summer on 1 June. It had to be completed by 15 August to enable the new turf to be ready for play in October. The principal aim was that by April it should look as if nothing had been changed.

"I have heard people say that they have ruined the course but they haven't," said Nick Faldo. "It is fantastic." Just playing the back nine early yesterday, the three-times winner hit a birdie on the 18th, having hit a driver and a four-iron. "That is exactly how I played it in 1989," he said. "I don't think it is going to be a big problem."

The 18th tee has been moved back a huge 60 yards, but otherwise Faldo believes the alterations are more subtle, such as changing the angles and creating chutes of trees to play down. "I understand marketing now," he joked. "Everyone has been talking about the changes at Augusta but the 18th is the only major change. The best thing they have done is move a couple of tees so you can't blast it any more. I don't think the number of potential winners has been reduced." Despite saying "retirement comes closer" – technically correct every day – after his last round collapse at the Players Championship, Faldo will not be missing a Masters for some time.

"I will keep going until I get the note," he said. "This is our Mecca, here and St Andrews. But I have got no expectations this week, just go out and play." Faldo added: "The main thing at the moment is that they have the green mega-fast."

That can only be good news for the US Open champion. Goosen revels in such conditions and, after an early setback when he dropped three shots on the first two holes, eventually won the BellSouth Classic by four from Jesper Parnevik. Phil Mickelson failed to take advantage of the South African's stuttering start and finished five back.

"I like hard and fast courses," Goosen said after his sixth win worldwide in 24 starts. "I prefer courses to be really tough so it is not just a putting contest but your iron play comes in to it. You have to grind it out, make your pars and take the birdies as a bonus. Since the US Open I realised that I could play under that sort of pressure and conditions." The South African does not have a good record at Augusta, missing the cut twice on his three visits, but last year he was hampered by a chest injury suffered in the final day at Sugarloaf. Few players win a major after winning the week previously and when Goosen won the Scottish Open last July, a poor opening round in The Open at Lytham cost him a chance of doing a transatlantic double.

"You can get a little bit drained the week before a major," Goosen admitted, "but then again, your confidence is a lot better now than it would have been than if I had just had a week off. I think it is a good thing, playing the week before a major." Parnevik agreed after closing with a 65 at Sugarloaf, the best round by three strokes on a day when only two other players broke 70. The Swede's form has been patchy of late and he has got more column inches in reference to the revelation that one of the twins who used to babysit for his four children was now dating Tiger Woods.

Perhaps the idea was to distract the world No 1. "That was the original plan," Parnevik joked. His best finish at Augusta was 20th last year. "I like it more and more each year," he said. "About when I finally got it, they changed the course.

"I was always baffled by the place. Sometimes I have been too aggressive, but one time I played with Greg Norman and he was ultra-conservative. Maybe the changes will help me not to be so aggressive. It is the perfect course for Bernhard Langer. You have to have patience, or a perfect short game. Too bad Tiger has both."

Padraig Harrington, 19th and 27th on his previous two visits, admits still to being "in awe of the place". "You can run around like a headless chicken if you are not careful." The Irishman will use his practice rounds to concentrate on his short game. "Because the changes are off the tee you only need to see them once. If they had changed all the greens, it would be a lot harder." After a promising eighth place at the BellSouth, Harrington is only interested in one place this week. "Only one position matters," he said. "Whatever they pay you for second place it cannot compensate for not winning. The Masters is probably the worst week to finish second."