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Norman a fan of the "new" Augusta

Greg Norman has praised the changes to the Augusta National Club which will greet the players when they arrive for the US Masters in April.

The three-time runner-up played a practice round at Augusta last week and believes the course will present a new and improved challenge when the first major of the year begins on April 11.

Norman joined Raymond Floyd, Robert Floyd and Robert Hamilton, the 2001 U.S. Amateur runner-up, for a practice round last week and saw at first hand how the course now sets up.

Criticised by many for being too easy after Tiger Woods set a new tournament record of 18-under-par in 1997, the club have made changes to nine of the 18 holes, and Norman was clearly impressed.

"Augusta has undergone some major renovations, but the course still looks like it’s been there forever," he said on his official website.

"The quality of work done by Tom Fazio and The Masters Committee is exceptional. They did a wonderful job adjusting the fairways and moving the right amount of dirt to make it look like it has never been touched.

"I think for the first couple days, until adjustments are made, there’s going to be a lot of conversation about all the changes. But I think Augusta had to do it, to defend The Masters and to defend Augusta National."

Norman, who at the age of 47 has not given up hope of winning his favourite tournament for the first time despite his many years of heartbreak at Augusta, said he believed the changes were just the tip of the iceberg.

"I think all tournament courses, including Augusta National, will have to keep making adjustments," he said.

The biggest alteration has been to the 18th, where the hole has been lengthened, a change Norman believes were long overdue.

"The extra 60 yards was really needed on this hole to make it a challenging finishing hole for one of golf’s greatest majors. This change is excellent.

"Tremendous work was needed, but it was done so subtly, especially on the fairway, it makes the terrain look like it has been there since the days of Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie.

Regardless of the changes, though, Norman said the players will still be able to handle the course.

"No matter what changes a course makes, a good player is going to handle it. If he’s on his game, he’s going to be up on the leaderboard. It will just take a little work for the players to adjust, but once they do they’ll still be able to master the course."

"Shotmakers are still going to be up there on Sunday. The guys who are playing well in a given week are the guys that are going to handle it."

Norman has been the victim of many disappointments at Augusta over the years.

An errant approach to 18 gifted Jack Nicklaus the title in 1986; Larry Mize chipped in to beat him in a play-off the year after, but the biggest disappointment came in 1996 when he lost a six-stroke lead in the final round to allow Nick Faldo to win his third Green Jacket.

The Australian suffered a rare missed cut at Augusta last year but there will be plenty of fans hoping he can finally break his hoodoo and take home the Green Jacket for the first time.

At least he likes the changes to the course.

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