Nicklaus frets for little guy with Augusta changes

Updated: March 14, 2006, 1:17 PM ET
Associated Press

JUPITER, Fla. -- Jack Nicklaus understands why Augusta National keeps lengthening its golf course. His fear is that it keeps eliminating the number of players with a realistic chance of winning the Masters.

Twice in the last five years, Augusta National has significantly strengthened the golf course with hopes of keeping it current, making today's player use the same clubs as players in years past.

Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket 20 years ago, hitting 1-iron into the par-5 15th for an eagle, shooting 31 on the back nine and closing with a 65 for a one-shot victory over Greg Norman and Tom Kite. On Tuesday, he discussed the last of his 18 professional majors, and he was asked whether a back-nine charge was still possible.

"I know what Augusta is trying to do," Nicklaus said. "Whether they've gone overboard, I'm not sure. But they've eliminated a lot of guys who are able to do that. Could Tiger [Woods] do that? Or Ernie Els? Or Vijay [Singh]? Yes. Could Mike Weir or Jose Maria [Olazabal] -- one of those guys of moderate length -- could they do that? Probably not. That's the change at Augusta I have a hard time with."

Augusta National first revamped the course for the 2002 Masters, adding nearly 300 yards. Tiger Woods won his third Masters that year by three shots over Retief Goosen. This time, the club strengthened six holes. Among the biggest changes were the par-3 fourth, lengthened by 40 yards to 245 yards; and the par-4 seventh, which was lengthened by 40 yards and now is 450 yards.

Nicklaus didn't mind the change at No. 4, saying it was always a 2-, 3- or 4-iron shot, and that's likely the club that will be used at this year's Masters.

"But No. 7? Wow," Nicklaus said. "I had dinner with Ernie the other night, and he played 4-iron and 7-iron. A 4-iron into that green? Ernie Els? What is Mike Weir playing, a 4-wood? That's the issues I've got."

Nicklaus was the premier power player of his time, and Woods already has won four green jackets. But sprinkled among the list of champions are moderate hitters such as Nick Faldo, Ben Crenshaw, Bernhard Langer and Hogan.

"I love Augusta. Don't get me wrong," Nicklaus said. "All I want is for Augusta to be Augusta, because it's such a great tournament. But when you take a golf course and limit the number of people that have the ability to win ... Their intention is not to do that. But they're doing that."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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