What will the weekend hold at Augusta?

Updated: April 9, 2005, 10:19 AM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods knows how fast the greens are at Augusta National, but surely he never thought he could putt a ball off of one and into the water. Certainly not a surface saturated by rain. Even if the putt was downhill.

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• The rains have passed and conditions Sunday should be nearly pristine. The National Weather Service forecast calls for mostly sunny with highs in the mid 70s and northeast winds of 5 to 10 mph.

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But it happened, and the blunder remains one of the lowlights of what little golf has transpired through two days but far less than two rounds of The Masters.

The example, however, points out just how treacherous things could have been had the rain not made a mess of things.

Just how much faster would those greens be? And how much more difficult would the course play?

The practice rounds suggested a fearsome test, but that will not be the case this weekend when the second round resumes and as players go after the green jacket to be awarded, hopefully, on Sunday.

The rain has made the place different, and that, sadly, has been the case for a couple of years.

"My first Masters was in '02," said Charles Howell, an Augusta native, "and it hasn't really played firm and fast except for the practice rounds."

Even Masters officials were lamenting the situation.

"We had a magnificent golf course on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday that you all saw," said Will Nicholson, chairman of The Masters competition committee. "Unfortunately, Mother Nature has not treated us too well since then."

Following the 2001 Masters won by Tiger Woods with a score of 272, 16 under par, Augusta National endured major changes.

Over a three-year period, nine holes were either lengthened or altered. Some 300 yards were added to the course, along with a second cut of rough. Bunkers were moved, trees added.

The idea was to try and negate some of the technological advances in the game. Long drivers would have to hit the ball straighter. And the hard, fast conditions would make it more difficult to keep the ball in the fairways and on the greens.

But it has yet to really play that way, and likely won't this weekend.

That doesn't mean it will be easy, but ...

"It just makes the golf course a lot more receptive to wayward shots," said No. 1-ranked Vijay Singh, who trails leaders David Howell, Luke Donald and Chris DiMarco by one stroke.

Singh said the conditions were much more demanding during the practice rounds.

"If you [didn't] hit it precisely where you want to land the ball, it's going to roll off the green," he said. "If you're hitting in with a longer iron, then it's almost impossible to stop it on the green. Things like that are a big factor."

While the course plays considerably longer when wet, it is easier to keep the ball in play and hold it on the greens.

"I still think it favors the long guy," said 2003 champion Mike Weir. "A player who can hit it high and long and straight now, because there is a little bit of rough out there, is going to have a huge advantage."

Perhaps that means that players such as Tiger Woods and Ernie Els can mount a comeback. Both players shot over par in the first round.

Of course, it also means that some of the players near the top of the leaderboard might have an easier time staying there. More birdies are possible because of the softer conditions.

Jay Haas believes the scores are a bit better because the conditions are softer.

"You're hitting shorter shots in," he said. ""The greens were very, very quick [during the practice rounds]. They're good now, but at least you can hold the ball with chip shots and things like that. I don't think the scores would have been as good as they are."

"When it gets really fast out here, you're not sure where your ball will end up," said Adam Scott.

There are many who believe that harder, faster conditions bring more players into contention. The theory is that much of the course's length is negated, and even shorter hitters can hit the ball far enough to put it in position.

It is unlikely those kind of conditions will present themselves by Sunday, but that doesn't mean it will be easy.

"When the course is this wet, it's very tough," said Darren Clarke. "The course will probably play as difficult as can be."

We'll see.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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