Augusta, Ga. — The hype over the Masters is no longer about the possibility of a grand slam.
This time, it's the punishment expected from a grand course.
Augusta National has undergone many changes since Tiger Woods left last April after completing his unprecedented sweep of the four biggest tournaments in golf.
Starting today, Woods will try to defend his title on a super-sized version of Augusta, a course that has been stretched to nearly 7,300 yards and figures to provide the 89-man field with the toughest test in Masters history.
"It's just not as much fun as it used to be to come here and play," Bob Estes said. "You'll still have great champions, but you won't have as many opportunities to make birdies and eagles."
Chris DiMarco, the 36-hole leader last year in his Masters debut, added: "If we don't have any rain, it's going to be brutal. A couple under (par) could win the tournament."
The final swing from Woods last year was a 75-yard lob wedge from the 18th fairway. He made birdie from 15 feet for a 16-under 272, the fourth-best score in Masters history and two strokes shy of his record 270 when he won his first green jacket in 1997.
Woods expects to have anything from a 5-iron to a 7-iron for his second shot in the 18th. He didn't even have that much club for his second shot on some of the par 5s.
Even his preparation has changed. Woods used to watch videos of past Masters to see if he could detect peculiar bounces along the fairways and breaks on the green.
"That doesn't happen anymore, because these are all new holes for us," he said.
Well, not all of them.
Only half of the 18 holes were changed during the largest renovation project in the 70-year history of Augusta National.
Bulldozers cleared out Georgia pines to make room for a tee box that is 60 yards farther back on No. 18. The club had to buy land from adjacent Augusta Country Club for a new tee on the par-5 13th. David Duval used to reach that green with a 5-iron. Now, he has put a 7-wood in his bag, which goes about 235 yards.
What does it all mean?
The player with the lowest score will slip into a green jacket at the end of the Masters, of course. What remains to be seen is what kind of score it will take.
"I don't know what kind of number you put on the increased difficulty of the golf course," Duval said.