In his own words, the five-time Masters champion on how Augusta National has evolved since the course was 'Tiger-proofed' following his 1997 demolition
Given we have the year’s opening major there every year Augusta National has to stay relevant. It may well have the luxury of being able to shut for seven months of the year and unlimited resources but it continues to serve up its April treat year upon year.
One of the most brutal and certainly the most significant pummelling it’s ever received is when Tiger Woods began the week with a front nine of 40 and ended it with a 12-shot massacre. And all at the age of 21.
Now, 23 years on, he was giving his pre-tournament press conference as, equally astonishingly, the defending champion. And in it he gave a fascinating reminder of how the course played before the so-called Tiger-proofing that saw him also capture three of the next seven Masters.
“I’ve hit driver and wedge into 2,” he said. “To the back left pin, I’ve hit 9-iron over the green a few times. That shot doesn’t exist anymore. Trying to carry that bunker, it was just a no-brainer to drive it down there and then I could have some kind of wedge in there.
“At 8, just try and keep the ball left of the bunker or over the bunker, have some kind of iron in there, 13 was a 3-wood, an 8-iron. And 15, as you saw in ’97, I hit driver, wedge in there. And so the par 5s have changed dramatically.”
A look at last year’s clubs show that Woods hit a 4-iron into 2, a 5-wood into 8, an 8-iron into 13 and then a 5-iron into 15 – he would birdie three of the four.
The 13th has been the topic of much speculation going into this year’s Masters with the new land being purchased and space behind the existing tee. Last year the 510-yard hole played as the easiest hole on three of the four days despite the efforts to challenge the world’s best.
“What they do with the tee markers over the years, slagging it more to the left, and it seems like each and every year the trees get a little taller and they have added more pine straw off the right side, planted a few more trees. I’ve had different game plans of hitting 3-wood or driver around the corner. When I first got there, it was just hit it up there near the gallery up on the right-hand side because we have more of an angle and the tee was more to the right.”
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But as easy as plenty of the players make the second shot look, the reality is quite different.
“That’s one of the toughest shots we’ll ever face. People don’t realise how steep that slope is, and as they have lengthened it over the years, if you don’t quite get around the corner, that’s the steepest part of the slope, and if you’re able to turn it over and get it down there, it’s a little bit flatter.
“But trying to hit a cut off that hook lie, and some years having to start it right of the creek and hook it back over there, and if you miss it left, it’s dead. If you miss it right, you’re dead. There’s not a lot of good spots to hit it into. It’s a big commitment. It’s one of the most difficult, underrated shots that we have to face there.”
Other interesting tidbits are how the players would use a straighter faced club to chip with given how much tighter the fairways were cut in the 1990s.
“The shots I learned from Raymond (Floyd) or Seve or Ollie over the years, when I first got there, the bump-and-runs, using 4-irons and 5-irons around the greens. It was hard to get a sand wedge on it and you were afraid of it bouncing. Now with the grass height being a little bit longer and them overseeding it a little bit more, it’s a little bit more sticky than it is around the greens.
“Also, we don’t have square grooves and balata balls anymore. The shots that we were able to play back in the ’90s were a little bit different. Every green has been rebuilt, and every green is a little bit flatter than it was back then, giving us a little bit more room. Just because the fact we’re a little bit further out, they are giving us a chance.”