- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

AUGUSTA, Ga. Golf's grand dame of drama finally has a fantastic finishing hole.
Perhaps the most legitimate criticism of Augusta National over the last decade has been that for such a suspense-inducing layout, the course has finished with more of a subdued growl than a threatening roar. Over the last six years, the National's 18th hole has ranked 11th in scoring, making it one of the eight easiest on the property. Three of the past four Masters winners have capped their victories with birdies at the tournament's 72nd hole.
But after last year's Masters, the greencoats decided to make strengthening the 18th a cornerstone of the massive renovations that have left nine holes altered and the overall layout lengthened from 6,985 yards to 7,270 yards.
"Obviously, the 18th hole has been changed more substantially than any other," defending champion Tiger Woods said earlier this season. "It used to be a hole where you were always thinking birdie. Now, I think 16 strokes [on that hole] for the tournament would be a great score."
Consider the breadth of the changes architect Tom Fazio made to the par-4 named "Holly," which was formerly a 405-yarder. First, the teebox was moved back 60 yards, not only lengthening the hole more than any on the layout but adding to the claustrophobic look of a tight drive through a narrow chute in the pines.
Second, the double-bunker complex which guards the left side of the fairway was increased in size by 10 percent, furthering the intimidating effect from the tee.
Next, a series of six partially mature pines were added behind the bunkers, eliminating the long left bailout used by Woods and Ian Woosnam en route to their victories in 1997 and 1991, respectively.
Finally, the back right portion of the green was extended by approximately 10 feet, providing a treacherous new pin position the club tested on the 89-player field yesterday.
"It's just a totally different hole, and I love it," Denmark's Thomas Bjorn said yesterday. "Before, it was a bit pedestrian, weak even. Now, it's a brute. The 72nd hole at a major championship shouldn't be a virtual victory lap. And before, that's what it was once you put the drive in play, because guys ripped it up on that flat and had a 9-iron or a wedge into the green. Not anymore. If that hole is playing into the wind, you could see a 200-yard approach, uphill, to a back pin. That's the way a major should finish."
Can you name the last time a contender played an approach to the 18th that was as difficult as it was dramatic with the green jacket on the line?
Fred Couples had a chance when he bunkered his 3-wood off the tee in 1998, but his 7-iron came up short. By far the most memorable approach to the 18th in Masters history occurred in the 1988 event, when Sandy Lyle followed his 1-iron into the bunker with a brilliant 7-iron from 146 yards to eight feet. Lyle then drained the putt to edge Mark Calcavecchia by one stroke.
A number of winners have holed huge putts on 18 to win (most recently Mark O'Meara in 1998), but Lyle's shot still stands as the hole's defining moment.
"Hopefully, you'll see more of that now with the changes," Lyle said yesterday. "I'm not sure I can reach those bunkers with my driver now, so I think they've actually made the tee shot easier. But the second shot is a real grinder now, and that's sure to give us some unforgettable finishes good and bad in the years to come."
To date, only one player has memorably blown the Masters with a poor approach to the last green. That, of course, would be disaster-magnet Greg Norman, who fanned a relatively simple 7-iron so badly in the 1986 Masters that you thought Jack Nicklaus himself might rush down from the scorer's hut to administer the Heimlich maneuver.
This year, all 89 players in the field will have to face a Maalox moment from the fairway.
"I think the best thing about the changes to 18 is they don't overly favor the long hitters," said Woosnam, who pounded a drive well left and over the bunkers in 1991. "Nobody is going to take that approach this time around, because it's 320 to carry those bunkers. And if you pull it left and long, like I did in '91 or Tiger does regularly, you're going to find yourself in a stand of 25-foot pines that wasn't there last year. Nobody's going to be grinning and waving to the gallery coming off that teebox this week, because there will still be so much work to do."
The Masters has almost always been defined by the drama of Amen Corner (Nos.11-13), the risk-reward possibilities of No.15, the treacherous par-3, 16th and the diabolically mounded 17th green. This year, expect No.18 to take its place among those pivotal holes, providing a fierce finale and a proper crescendo to the world's most prestigious tournament.

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