Tiger can only marvel at new longer hitters

Augusta: Tiger Woods says his best is yet to come, he is ready to snap an 18-month win drought this week at the Masters and he still expects to break the career record of 18 Majors won by Jack Nickalus.

But the 35-year-old winner of 14 Majors suddenly finds himself in the position he put so many other golfers when his jaw-dropping long drives started producing major titles at the 1997 Masters -- behind golf`s evolutionary curve.

"I`m hitting it just as far. That`s the thing. It`s no problem for me hitting over 300 yards," Woods said. "But there are guys who flight it 320 (yards)."

Big hitters have an advantage this week at an Augusta National layout lengthened greatly since Woods won in record fashion in 1997.

"It does help on the par 5s. It can be done (without it) but it just puts more stress on your wedge game," Woods said.

"I`m certainly not one of the longest (hitters), there`s no doubt, but I can still move it out there. I`m not one of the shortest yet.”

"I have another gear in there where I can add 15, 20. It`s still there. But some of these longer guys, they are at 15, 20, and then they have another gear. The sport has changed. Guys are bigger and faster and can certainly move it."

Woods recounted playing two rounds at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago with fellow Americans Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland and receving a rude awakening on the state of his drives, his knees weakened by years of toil.

"I thought Dustin was long and Dustin has got nothing on Gary," Woods said. "When Gary steps on it, it`s like, `Whoa, are you kidding me?` His ball is flat. When you think it should be coming down it, it just continues to fly.”

"He hit a shot on 16 and it was a 335 carry with a bunker on the right and he hit the face of it and he`s all bent out of shape that he couldn`t carry it. He said, `I`ve lost the ability to carry 340 now."

Woods rolled his eyes skyward, adding, "Like, sorry, I had never seen that shot."

It`s much the way shots by Woods looked when he was winning four Majors in a row in 2000 and 2001. It`s an evolution Woods helped create by pushing strength work and fitness and luring bigger, faster-swinging players to golf over other sports.

Bureau Report

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