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Warren Bennett

Tiger rates "New Augusta" 3 shots harder

Tiger Woods doesn't recall his score, either a 72 or 73. What stood out when he returned to Augusta National for the first time since winning the Masters were the numbers on the irons he kept pulling from the bag.

Remember that 60-degree sand wedge Woods hit to the 18th green in the final round?

This time, he smoked his driver and still had a 6-iron left to the green.

Woods usually hits a driver over the bunker down the right side of the first fairway, leaving a wedge or a 9-iron to the green. When he played last week with Mark O'Meara, he hit a 6-iron.

Clearly, this isn't the same Augusta National.

The club went through the biggest overhaul in its 68-year history this summer by adding nearly 300 yards, expanding already cavernous bunkers and shifting several tees to change the shape of the tee shots.

The results will be determined in April, although Woods gave a pretty strong assessment of the redesign Wednesday during an interview with The Associated Press.

``Would I give it two thumbs up? It's pretty tough,'' Woods said. ``We both thought it was two or three shots tougher.''

Asked which holes featured the most drastic changes, Woods said, ``Every one of them.''

Woods and O'Meara played with Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson on a wet, foggy day that made the course play much longer and slower than it will in April. Still, Woods said, the changes will amount to at least a two-club difference.

``The longer hitters who are driving it well will have a big advantage,'' he said.

That he and O'Meara were playing with Augusta's chairman was only appropriate. It was Johnson who feared the world's best players were turning the course into a pitch-and-putt, then ordered architect Tom Fazio to make it tougher.

The idea was to keep Augusta challenging in light of better athletes, better technology and better golf balls.

``I think any of us probably hate to see people hitting sand wedges to 425-yard par 4s,'' Johnson said in April.

Hootie got his wish -- and more.

The tee box on the 18th hole has been moved 60 yards back and 5 yards to the right. Woods said he had 301 yards to reach the front edge of the bunker.

He took command of the Masters by hitting an 8-iron to 2 feet for birdie at No. 11. With a new tee box 35 yards back, Woods hit a 5-iron for his second shot.

Those were among nine holes that were altered with hopes of putting a greater premium on accuracy off the tee.

Besides having to hit 6-iron on three holes that used to require only a wedge -- Nos. 1, 9 and 18 -- Woods felt the biggest change was the par-5 13th.

It used to play 485 yards, with a severe dogleg left to a green protected in front by Rae's Creek. Woods and other big hitters often hit 3-wood around the corner, leaving them about a 5- or 6-iron to the green. Woods hit 8-iron for his second shot when he won in 1997.

Now, the tee has been pushed back 25 yards, and Woods said he hit a driver just to reach the corner of the dogleg.

``You can't carry it around the corner like we used to,'' he said. ``Remember the drives that Phil (Mickelson) and I hit on Sunday? He hit a fade around the corner and I hit a nice draw that shaped right in there. That's out of the ball game. You can't keep the ball in the air that long.''

Greg Norman made an eagle on the 13th to catch Jose Maria Olazabal in the final round of the 1999 Masters. Now, Woods said, most players will be happy to make birdie.

``Making a 3 is a less viable chance,'' he said. ``You used to be thinking 3, or get it on the green and two-putt for 4. But this has brought a 7 into the picture, and taken the 3 out.''

In a column he wrote for Golf World magazine, O'Meara agreed with Woods when he said, ``Unless you putt great all week, even a medium-length hitter will have a hard time winning the Masters.''

In the soft, wet conditions of last week, O'Meara hit 3-iron for his approach on No. 1, 2-iron into the 11th green and a 4-wood to the 18th.

``Afterward, I told Hootie I'm just glad I have my green jacket from winning in 1998,'' O'Meara said.


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