Woods hits out at new length of Old Course

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The Independent Online

"I don't understand why they would do it," he said at the J P McManus Pro-Am. "It's like Augusta, some of the changes they've made there I've not agreed with." What has most baffled the world No 1 about the five new tees that have added an extra 164 yards to the "home of golf" is how unnecessary he believes these to be. "Those holes are so dependent on the weather as it is," said the 2000 champion. "If the wind blows and you get bad weather the guys are going to shoot high scores regardless. That's the way St Andrews is."

Woods' words will be of no comfort to Peter Dawson, the R & A chief executive, who has insisted that by putting new tees on the second, fourth, 12th, 13th and 14th the governing body "are restoring rather than changing the course". Coming on the back of a whole raft of discontent, both locally and from the professional ranks, the issue now seems certain to be a major talking point in the year's third major that begins a week tomorrow.

Paul McGinley, the Irish Ryder Cup hero, has been the vocal opponent up to now, saying the extra distance played directly into the hands of Woods and the other big hitters and yesterday the nine-time major winner, himself, was not about to disagree.

"It's tailor-made for anyone who hits it long," he said. "Look at the list of winners. Jack's [Nicklaus] won there, [John] Daly's won there, I've won there - we're not short hitters. The par fives are reachable in two for us and a couple of par fours can be driven. So, yes, that's an advantage and some of the cross-bunkers that some guys have to worry about, we can fly them."

For this reason, Woods is cutting a mightily confident golfer as he sets off on his annual pilgrimage around Ireland to play "golf and fish with a few buddies" before arriving in Fife on Sunday. Once there, he warns that his rivals will not see the champion who so effortlessly won by eight shots in 2000, but a new, improved champion.

"I don't want to be like I was in 2000; that's why I made the swing changes - I wanted to be better," he said. "I was satisfied when I won the first major this year, but I felt I should have won the other. At the US Open I finished second last on the putting stats so that tells you how well I hit the ball. My confidence is building at the right time."

That is an ominous statement indeed by Woods, who is so focused on winning his second Open that he will not be changing his tried and trusted schedule for anyone next week, not even Nicklaus, who will be bidding a truly emotional "final" farewell. When asked if he would be seeking out the 18-time champion for a practice round in the run-up, Woods smiled and replied: "If Jack wants to get up that early."

He admitted, however, that it would be "extremely special" to win in such a week and revealed that he can see good omens in the Golden Bear's goodbye.

"I've been pretty good on Jack's farewells," he joked. "I won this year's Masters - his farewell - I won at Valhalla in the USPGA - his farewell - and I won at St Andrews last time, which was supposed to be his farewell. I hope to do it again."

l Greg Norman has confirmed his appearance at the Senior British Open Championship from 21-24 July. The Australian, 50, will be making his first appearance on the European Seniors Tour at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, where he will join Bob Charles, Tom Kite, Gary Player, Craig Stadler and Tom Watson.