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Mixed opinions about longer Augusta

Tiger Woods had mixed feelings and Ernie Els liked what he saw after making their first visits to the lengthened Augusta National, venue for next month's U.S. Masters.

Golfing greats Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, however, believe organisers have gone too far in extending and tightening Augusta for the April 6-9 tournament.

The famous par-72 layout has been stretched an extra 155 yards, making it the second longest course in major championship history at 7,445 yards.

"It will be a big challenge if the golf course plays fast," world number one Woods was quoted as saying on his official website on Tuesday, having played at Augusta two days earlier.

"If the fairways are firm and they're running, then I can see it being a great test.

"But if they're soft, then I think it eliminates a lot of guys that have the skill to play but they just don't hit the ball far enough.

"You just need to make it fair for all the rest of the competitors, as well."

Six holes have been lengthened since Woods clinched his fourth Masters title last year, with the tees at the par-four first, par-three fourth, par-four seventh and 11th, par-five 15th and par-four 17th all moved back.

Woods, who visited the course on Sunday with his financial advisor Christopher Hubman and Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, said he failed to reach the green with a three-iron from the new tee at the 240-yard fourth.

His best drive came at the par-five 15th, where he reached the green in two, using a five-iron for his second.

Nicklaus, who won the Masters a record six times between 1963 and 1986, told the April edition of Golf Digest magazine: "I think they've ruined it from a tournament standpoint.

"Augusta has meant a ton to me in my lifetime. It's a big, big part of my life, and I love it. That's why I hate to see them change it.

"They've totally eliminated what Bobby Jones tried to do in the game of golf."

American Jones created the Masters and designed Augusta National with Alister Mackenzie.

"Bobby Jones believed golf was primarily a second-shot game," added Nicklaus, who is concerned over the narrowing of some of the fairways with extra bunkering, trees and rough.

"He believed that you should have enough room to drive the ball on to the fairway, but if you put it on the correct side of the fairway, you had an advantage to put the ball toward the hole.

"He wanted to give you a chance to do that shot."

Palmer, a four-times Masters champion, said: "I love the place, just love everything that happens there.

"But now, I'm not so sure. It's changed dramatically from the course I knew the last 50 years."

However, South African Els enjoyed his two days of practice at Augusta National last week.

"I'd already read some of the press coverage and chatted with a few guys who've been there recently, so I kind of knew what to expect," the three-times major winner said on his website.

"But it was great to see it for myself. I must say I love the changes they've made and, as you'd expect, it was in great shape, too.

"I really had a great couple of days there, and the weather was perfect."

March 15, 2006


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