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Augusta to have more rough this year

Additional length on two holes and the addition of 20 pine trees down the right side of the 15th fairway won't be the only significant changes at the Masters.

Augusta National Golf Club will finally have some rough.

Masters officials prefer to describe it as the "second cut." Whatever the name, Augusta's chairman confirmed Wednesday that the grass beyond the fairway will be twice as high when the tournaments starts next month -- from five-eighths of an inch, enough to give the fairways definition, to 1 3-8 inches, which could be just enough to create havoc.

"While changes made to the golf course this year included distance, the principle objective was to place greater emphasis on accuracy off the tee," said Hootie Johnson, in his first year as chairman. "The second cut is consistent with that."

Rumors of rough at Augusta have been circulating the past couple of weeks, as well as speculation on how it might impact scoring in the Masters.

"Augusta with rough? On a hard, fast day? Man," said Ernie Els, shaking his head.

The second cut will be nothing like the U.S. Open, where any errant drive often allows for nothing more than a wedge to chop it back into play. But because of the severity of Augusta's slick, contoured greens, 1 3-8 inches of grass -- nearly the depth of a golf ball -- could prevent players from controlling the spin on their iron shots.

"Obviously, all these years you've had a beautiful lie with which do anything you can to the ball," said Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion. "Even if you take just a little bit of spin off the ball, it will make a big difference."

Ironically, any changes figured to come the year after Tiger Woods, despite a 40 over his first nine holes, won the 1997 Masters with a record 18-under-par 270. The previous mark was 271, first set by Jack Nicklaus in 1965 and matched by Raymond Floyd in 1976.

But former chairman Jack Stephens said last year there was no cause for alarm, no need to go beyond the annual tweaks to the course that Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed in 1933.

Now, defending champion Mark O'Meara and everyone else will find striking changes.

The tees on the par-5 second hole and the par-4 17th have been moved back about 25 yards, and the pine trees have been planted where there used to be mounds down the right side of the par-5 15th. Also, the 11th green has been elevated about 2 feet.

And the grass will be a littler higher even though the fairways will be plenty wide.

Whether rough becomes the most significant change to Augusta since bentgrass greens replaced Bermuda in 1981 remains to be seen. But Els believes one thing is certain -- Woods' record 270 is probably safe.

"Now that you're going to have flier lies?" he said. ``That record will last forever, and I'll put money on it."

TRW