The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Augusta has changed for the sloggers

Cosmetic surgery is big business in America (“Dial 1800 Scalpel today for a new you!”) and there has been so much nipping and tucking at the Augusta National in recent years that Bobby Jones’ stunning original is fast becoming the golf course equivalent of Michael Jackson.

After a few minor tweaks here and there to reign in Jack Nicklaus, the advent of Tiger Woods — who has earned more than £1.8 million of his career fortune exclusively at Augusta — was deemed serious enough to call in the bulldozers.

It is still prettier to look at than Jackson, but when the architects’ stitches came out this year, one of the world’s more subtle golfing terrain was even more of a slogger’s paradise. There are those who believe that if you were to break open Bobby Jones’ coffin, there would be plenty of evidence that he had rolled over more than once.

Length has all but taken over from strategy as the defining feature of Augusta, and it is perhaps no coincidence that there has not been an exciting finish here since Mark O’Meara won in 1998.

It may not be too long before, as they say over here, we run out of real estate — and the Masters, while still mostly in Georgia, will have to take in large chunks of North Carolina. For the record (at least if you go by official US Tour statistics) Woods is not the longest driver out here, he is not even in the top 10. So who is No 1' Daly' Love' No, it is James H. McLean, an obscure Australian.

Woods, though, is only a shorter hitter than McLean by choice, keeping the really high-tech stuff for amusement only. He still employs blade irons and an average-shafted steel driver, although he has several extra long graphite drivers lying around at home in Florida.

“I can hit them a mile,” Woods says, “but the ball comes off the club face too fast. I want to be able to work the ball and shape my shots, and a lot of the guys who are longer than me are sacrificing shot-making ability for length.”

Nicklaus, at the age of 63, reckons he hits it just as long now as he used to in his prime as does Bernard Gallacher, the former Ryder Cup player now plying his trade on the European Seniors’ Tour.

However, while Nicklaus has been a long-time opponent of technology advances, Gallacher is all for them.

“What is sometimes forgotten,” Gallacher said, “is just how poor the equipment was in our day. I had a special ring to put my golf ball through, and only about one in six was a perfect fit. Some of them weren’t even round.

“Today’s equipment has made the game much more enjoyable for the average player, and I have a real problem with trying to halt development. Who’s bothered about seeing pros shoot good scores' Do you prefer to see birdies or bogeys'

“We surely don’t want to go back to the days of persimmon heads and shiny leather grips. The average handicap has scarcely budged from 16.6 since equipment got better, but what it does do is help older people — the ones who used to give up at the age of 60 — stay in the game longer, and keep on enjoying it.”

In the professional game, though, even Woods might have to reach for the Kryptonite before he is too much older.

Otherwise in the 2010 Masters the poor chap might suffer the shameful humiliation of requiring as much as a three-wood to reach the green in one at par fives.

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