Tiger’s claws come out against Augusta changes

If Hootie Johnson, the chairperson of the Augusta National golf club, did not already know that the wholesale changes to the most familiar golf course in the world were unpopular with those who have to play it at the Masters this week, he knows now.

The defending champion, Tiger Woods, in a breach of his lifelong vow of public blandness, this week delivered a devastating critique of the decision to lengthen six holes, narrow fairways and plant dozens of new trees around the Augusta National course. He accused the club of unnecessarily ”messing” with Alistair Mackenzie’s masterpiece and claimed the changes would narrow the field of potential winners for the tournament, which started on Thursday.

”With the length some of the guys hit the ball, they are having a hard time holding the greens, so those shorter hitters are definitely going to struggle,” Woods said.

Woods was especially critical of the changes to the par-three 4th hole, which now measures 240 yards, and of the 7th hole, which has been stretched to 450 yards. ”I didn’t think you needed to mess with the 4th. It was cool as it was. I thought the 7th was a really great risk-reward hole where you could hit a driver or you could hit an iron, off the tee, depending on what you felt you could do. Now it’s playing totally differently.”

The world number one is the latest in a litany of former champions who have condemned the changes, among them Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who has accused the club of ”ruining” the course as a Major tournament venue.

Johnson is accomplished in the art of self-justification, but even he will be hard-pressed to defend what many of the game’s greatest names consider to be the indefensible.

Ruined or not, the Augusta National course is certain to provide an extremely stern test, not least because the weather is forecast to be warm and sunny throughout the tournament. Woods, who teed off alongside the Italian amateur Edoardo Molinari and Robert Allenby, was disinclined to predict a winning score, although he cut a confident figure while playing a practice round with his close friend Mark O’Meara.

Not that the four-times champion requires any extra motivation, but his father Earl Woods, who is terminally ill, always considered the Masters to be his favourite event and a victory for his son this week would have added poignancy. ”This has always been a very special week for us as a family,” an obviously emotional Woods said. — Â

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