Tiger Woods yesterday added his booming voice to this year's "Great Masters Debate" when criticising the National's course changes. "Not necessary, they've lost some of the magic" was the gist of the reigning champion's damning verdict. And so the pressure increased on the Augusta guardians.
As ever, Hootie Johnson will doubtless remain impervious at his annual "Chairman's Address" this morning although, as Jack Nicklaus is due to speak before him, the scrutiny surrounding the extra 155 yards will be intense. When the six-times winner is taking aim, and the man who could extend his unprecedented streak here to five victories in 10 years is doing likewise, there are not many places to hide. Woods might suggest doing so behind a few of the new trees planted on the edges of fairways.
"It's awfully narrow out there," he said. "I don't necessarily agree with the changes. I thought it was fine the way it was. Four was a hard hole anyway and they've made it tougher. Same with the seventh. Instead of cheering for eagles the crowd will be cheering for birdies, pars. That will kind of miss something. With the extra lengthening, the bombers will definitely have an advantage. It's narrowed up the field a little bit. Some of the short-hitters are going to struggle out there, for sure."
But just like last year, Chris DiMarco came out slugging for the little guys. As his nickname - "Bulldog" - might suggest, the 2005 runner-up is a stranger to submission and yesterday sounded more than a little baffled at the sight of his fellow driving-poodles flipping over and kicking their legs over the extensions to six holes.
"People say about the lengthening and only a few being able to win and all that but to my mind putting is still the key here," said the 37-year-old New Yorker. "The year Tiger won by 12 he didn't make a three-putt all week -that's why he won. So, before anybody is written off they should wait until they get on these greens and put a flagstick in their hands. That's what keeps everybody in this tournament, bottom line."
But the word here on the rapidly-shrinking fairways is that the big boys now have an even greater advantage because they are hitting in lofted clubs which at least have a chance of holding on to the sliver-like greens. It is a theory that, among others, Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam were subscribing to yesterday.
DiMarco has an answer for it. "Don't watch what Tiger does, play your own game," he said. And, more than anything, make the most of the chance to get your retaliation in early.
"Because he out-drives me on almost every hole, I'm hitting it in first," added DiMarco. "So if you, say, hit in a six iron close, that's going to put even more pressure on him standing there with a wedge in his hand. I'm a really good iron player and it's got to be frustrating to Tiger when I'm hitting it inside him every time and I'm using a seven-iron and he's hitting lob-wedge."
Frustrating, yes, but destructive, no. With the course seemingly changed to suit Woods, many are predicting another success. Except DiMarco, of course. But then he is in a dwindling minority here.
Tee-off times for first two rounds
(US unless stated, all times BST)
1300 and 1556: R Pampling (Aus), L Glover, O Browne.
1311 and 1607: L Mize, B Crane, D Duval.
1322 and 1618: B Crenshaw, *C Ogden, T Immelman (SA).
1333 and 1629: N Faldo (GB), M A Jimenez (Sp), R Beem.
1344 and 1640: R Floyd, V Taylor, R Mediate.
1355 and 1651: G Player (SA), *D Dougherty, R Sabbatini (SA).
1406 and 1702: F Zoeller, C Howell, P McGinley (Rep Irl).
1417 and 1724: T Watson, *B McElhinney (Rep Irl), M Campbell (NZ).
1428 and 1735: I Woosnam (GB), T Clark (SA), T Lehman.
1439 and 1746: M Calcavecchia, D Howell (GB), T Jaidee (Thai).
1450 and 1757: M Weir (Can), R Goosen (SA), T Hamilton.
1501 and 1808: J M Olazabal (Sp), D Toms, L Donald (GB).
1512 and 1819: V Singh (Fiji), H Stenson (Swe), A Oberholser.
1523 and 1830: T Woods, *E Molinari (It), R Allenby (Aus).
1534 and 1841: F Couples, J Furyk, S Maruyama (Japan).
1556 and 1300: C Coody, T Purdy, B Jobe.
1607 and 1311: T Herron, N O'Hern (Aus), M Hensby (Aus).
1618 and 1322: J Leonard, S Ames (Can), S O'Hair
1629 and 1333: B Langer (Ger), Z Johnson, B Bryant.
1640 and 1344: S Verplank, C Montgomerie (GB), J Ogilvie.
1651 and 1355: S Micheel, L Westwood (GB), B Curtis.
1702 and 1406: S Lyle (GB), B Mayfair, P Lonard (Aus).
1724 and 1417: J Daly, C Pettersson (Swe), J Bohn.
1735 and 1428: M O'Meara, T Levet (Fra), D Clarke (NIrl).
1746 and 1439: F Funk, S Appleby (Aus), C Campbell.
1757 and 1450: S Cink, T Bjorn (Den), K J Choi (S Kor).
1808 and 1501: C DiMarco, S Garcia (Sp), G Ogilvy (Aus).
1819 and 1512: C Stadler, *K Marsh, P Harrington (Rep Irl).
1830 and 1523: P Mickelson, S Katayama (Japan), E Els (SA).
1841 and 1534: D Love, A Cabrera (Arg), A Scott (Aus).
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