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The Tour Report
  • Els blog: Making 20th Masters appearance

  • Ernie Els was runner-up at the Masters in 2000 and '04. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Ernie Els was runner-up at the Masters in 2000 and '04. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Editor's note: Ernie Els is writing a blog for PGATOUR.COM in 2014 and this is his most recent installment. For more information on the World Golf Hall of Famer, visit www.ernieels.com.

It was good to get four rounds under my belt at the Shell Houston Open last week. I really needed that.

There were a couple of decent rounds in there, as well, especially the 68 on day one. I was really getting it out there with my @AdamsGolf XTD driver, averaging 298 for the week, which will serve me well on a long track like Augusta National. My game’s close, but close won’t cut it in a major championship. I need to step it up if I’m going to get in the mix this week.

This is my 20th appearance in the Masters – having made my debut in 1994 – and let me tell you the experience never gets old. You feel a buzz when you arrive and the butterflies start to dance around in your stomach. Everyone’s excited to be here, even the champions from 20 or 30 years ago. You never want to stop coming back; it’s that special.

The weather forecast at the start of this week doesn’t look too great, so getting in that practice round last Monday before we travelled to Houston is looking like a good decision. We’re told the forecast from mid-week through to the weekend is for dry weather with warm sunshine, which is perfect for golf and perfect for the powers-that-be at Augusta to get the course playing firm and fast. That’s when this beautiful old girl tests your game to the max.

I’m often asked how tough is Augusta National, which brings to mind a piece I saw in Golf Digest magazine a few years back, when it estimated that the course rating for a scratch player is around 78. Look at it another way – if you get it into double-digits under par this week, you’re probably playing to the equivalent of a plus-10 handicap every day for all four days. If you look back through the tournament archive, the all-time scoring average at the Masters is 74.17. Basically, any round in the 60s at Augusta National is a very good round.

Since I first started coming here in the mid-1990s, the course has changed quite a bit. Often the changes from one year to the next are so subtle and executed so beautifully that you have to look twice to see what they’ve done. There’s no mistaking the changes to the 17th, though, because the famous Eisenhower tree is gone, a victim to Mother Nature. In some ways it looks like a better hole from the tee, a little more open. Still a very demanding hole, though. A few other trees have gone as well, which gives some different looks on a couple of the holes.

Perhaps the most significant change these past 20 years is the length of the course, which has been stretched from around 6,900 yards to almost 7,500. That’s maintained a lot of the shot values and, in fact, on some holes we’re hitting more club into the greens even though the golf ball and the clubs we’re using are so much better than they were in the 90s.

Also there’s a bit more rough out here than there used to be. It’s nothing like as high as at other majors, but trust me you still want to be hitting from the fairways because distance control and hitting your spots is one of the keys to managing your game around here. You need maximum control of your golf ball going into these tricky greens.

A lot of the time you’re not actually aiming at flags, but safe spots on the greens – playing smart and trying to keep yourself below the hole. That’s why you’ll hear a lot of players talking about being patient. Trust me, you need a lot of patience to do well at Augusta, but then again you need a lot of everything; this golf course really does test every facet of your game and your mind.

So, this masterpiece that Bobby Jones created all those years ago is still a true test of a top player’s game. Yes it’s tough, but there are birdie and eagle opportunities out there. You just have to choose your moments wisely and you’d better execute properly. It’s a unique challenge and as always it’s a challenge that really gets the juices going. I can’t wait.

I’ll write again soon. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @TheBig_Easy.