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Officials plan more TV, harder par 4s for tournament

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Masters is likely to see significant changes next year that will interest fans and players: expanded television coverage and tougher par-4 holes.

In a departure from usual practice, Augusta National officials Wednesday made public some plans for the future.

"It takes us a long time to get around to making a decision, but we are considering 18-hole (TV) coverage for the leaders on Sunday, and possibly that could come about next year," said William "Hootie" Johnson, club and tournament chairman.

The Masters offers the least amount of TV coverage of any major championship: 21/2 hours today, Friday and Saturday, and three on Sunday. The other major championships show 18 holes for the leaders on the weekends. (The BBC in Britain broadcasts the British Open all day.)

Johnson said the expanded coverage is being considered only for Sunday. He also said the tournament will attempt to strengthen some par-4 holes in time for next year's tournament. Noted course architect Tom Fazio has been contracted to make changes on "four or five" holes, none of which was named.

"We don't have the plans finalized," Johnson said. "We've been looking at those for four years, but we are confident that we are close enough that the changes will be made and a number of our par 4s will be strengthened from the standpoint of length -- some with length, others having to do with accuracy off the tee."

Johnson said the reason is simple: "The ball and the equipment. We are going to make an attempt to keep the golf course current with the times."

Jack Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion who has done alterations at Augusta, expressed regret about the changes but understands them. He chided ball manufacturers, urging them to rein in technology. "The great old courses are becoming obsolete," Nicklaus said.

HELP YOURSELF: One of many Masters traditions is the awarding of the green jacket to the winner. The defending champion helps the new champion into the jacket in a post-tournament ceremony.

Unless, of course, the defending champion wins again.

"I've been thinking about it for a while, and I'd like to put that jacket on myself again," Vijay Singh said. "I've looked forward to this week for a long time, and I know the history behind it. You know, winning once is great; doing it twice would be unbelievable."

The last player to repeat was Nick Faldo in 1990. He won a playoff over Raymond Floyd the year after defeating Scott Hoch in a playoff. Nicklaus won the tournament in 1965-66.

THE WAIT GOES ON: Phil Mickelson once again finds himself among the favorites. It is a position he welcomes, one he expects. What he didn't expect was to still be looking for his first major title nine years into his career.

"It's disappointing," said Mickelson, who has 18 PGA Tour titles. "But I also feel that I've improved each year. I feel right now I'm a much better player than I have ever been, and if I'm able to put it together, make smart decisions and hit smart golf shots, that I will break through soon."

MISC: Singh's menu choice for the annual Champions Dinner on Tuesday night was chicken panang curry, a Thai dish he had specially prepared by friends who own a restaurant in Atlanta. ... Helped by a hole-in-one, David Toms shot 5 under to win the traditional par-3 tournament. Toms beat Loren Roberts by one stroke in the nine-hole event. No par-3 winner has gone on to win the tournament.

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