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Augusta organizers satisfied with result

Much of the talk going into the 70th U.S. Masters focused on the lengthened Augusta National layout and how the shorter hitters in the field would have no chance of winning.

When Phil Mickelson completed a two-putt bogey at the final hole on Sunday, his only dropped shot of the round, to secure a two-stroke triumph, tournament organisers had several reasons to feel fully vindicated.

Although American Mickelson is among the longest drivers of the ball in the game, second-placed Tim Clark of South Africa is one of the shortest.

Producing sparkling iron play all week at Augusta, Clark was ever-present on the leaderboard on the final day before holing out from a greenside bunker at the last to complete the highest major finish of his career.

Long hitters, short hitters, players young and old. The 70th Masters showcased a little bit of everything despite being played on the second longest course in major championship history.

The par-72 layout had been stretched to a daunting 7,445 yards since Tiger Woods clinched his fourth green jacket in a playoff last April.

Before this year's tournament, there was widespread speculation that perhaps only 10 players of sufficient length would be able to triumph at Augusta.

Criticism of the course changes came from some of the game's biggest names, among them six-times winner Jack Nicklaus and world number one Woods.

"I think they've ruined it from a tournament standpoint," Nicklaus told the April edition of Golf Digest magazine. "They've totally eliminated what (Masters creator) Bobby Jones tried to do in the game of golf."

Six holes were lengthened with the addition of new tees, Woods disagreeing with the changes at the par-three fourth and par-four seventh.

"I didn't think you need to mess with four," he said. "I thought four was one of the cool holes as it was. It was pretty tough.

"And I thought seven was a great risk/reward hole where you could hit driver, fairway wood or even iron off the tee, depending on what you feel like you could do.

"Now you're hitting driver, where usually we're hitting three-woods or two-iron. It's playing totally different now."

Weather was always going to be a significant factor at the Masters and last week also produced a mixed bag in that department.

The first two rounds were played under bright sunshine in firm, fast-running conditions which unquestionably brought a lot more of the shorter hitters into the picture.

Twice champion Ben Crenshaw, at 54, provided one of the most poignant story lines as he moved into contention by the tournament's halfway point with a gifted putting touch apparently unaffected by time.

On Saturday, thunderstorms and rain curtailed play for much of the day, leaving the course wetter and longer. However, medium-length hitters like Clark and 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk were still able to flourish because of their overall accuracy.

The marathon final day, in which overnight leader Chad Campbell of the U.S. had to negotiate 32 holes, reverted to the conditions of Thursday and Friday although the greens ran lightning-fast.

Virtually every type of player had the chance to shine.

American Fred Couples, at 46, was in the hunt to become the oldest Masters champion. With his fluid swing, he chased Mickelson hard but, time and again, was let down by his putter.

Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, another twice champion at Augusta, charged up the leaderboard with a best-of-the-week 66 to finish in a share of third.

Certainly not the biggest of hitters, the Spaniard is possibly unrivalled with his short game and produced the shot of the day with a majestic five-wood from 245 yards at the par-five 15th.

His ball ended up within three feet of the flag to set up an eagle-three which briefly lifted him into a tie for second place.

If there is a criticism of the 70th U.S. Masters, it was the relative hush on the last day. Typically, the final round at a Masters features huge roars from the crowds as one player after another holes a long putt for birdie or produces a magical shot over the closing stretch.

This Sunday was different. Because of the lengthened course and the slick, sloping greens, birdie fireworks were few and far between as most of the contenders struggled with their putting.

As far as champion Mickelson was concerned, though, winning on a controversially lengthened golf course sparked just one thought.

"I'd like to say one thing about the changes real quick," he said. "I really like 'em."

 

 




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