"This tournament has become all about playing defensively and minimizing damage."

They're not throwing snowballs anymore. This is an avalanche.

From John Hawkins' Golf World game story on the 2008 Masters:

Those who have begun comparing the Masters to the U.S. Open in terms of punitive nature aren't thinking clearly,

We'll let you tell that to Tiger and Phil's face...

...since the outrageous homestretch produced by the top of the leader board in 2004, this tournament has become all about playing defensively and minimizing damage. The addition of the second cut (rough), a billion trees and 500-plus yards, all of which occurred during the tenure of former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson, has resulted in a conspicuous subtraction of charm and suspense.

It's easy to blame Hootie and the Blowtorch for the growing pile of late-Sunday snoozers, but the game's sharpest minds failed to foresee the most obvious effect of the changes.

Oh do tell us why you see what the rest of us only saw five years ago...

A competition once weighted heavily to favor power players and good putters has fallen into the hands of the control freaks. You have to hit fairways to even think about winning. Scoring angles have been reduced to direct lines. Certain sections of the course have gotten alarmingly tight, but it's the congestion framing those alleys that has nullified the shotmaking and recovery skills that helped brand the Masters from its inception.

The Seve Ballesteros of the early 1980s couldn't make a cut at Augusta National nowadays.

Okay, that's a bit silly, but we'll let it slide because the point is well-intentioned.

Immelman hit 48 of 56 fairways and won. Zach Johnson averaged 265 yards per measured drive but hit 45 fairways and won. Heck, those guys made a cottage industry out of laying up on par 5s once routinely attacked by anyone with a little pop in his bat and designs on a seat at the Champions Dinner.

Not to indict the last two green jacketeers -- they only did what they could and had to do -- but things have really changed. Good strategy is now conservative strategy at a place where all hell used to break loose on a regular basis. "It usually doesn't turn out too well if you try to be aggressive," said Geoff Ogilvy, who shot six over on the weekend and finished T-39. Not that he needed to finish the thought, but Ogilvy did: "Aggression doesn't work, but the guys four or five back have to be aggressive because you're not going to win parring every hole."

After years of dealing with disadvantages one could trace to his lack of supreme power, a top-tier control player such as Jim Furyk might figure to factor, but even he speaks in somewhat jaded tones. "It's a pretty good test of golf," Furyk said. "I mean, it used to be a lot of fun to play. It's not fun anymore, but it definitely got a lot more difficult." Addressing the notion that people don't hoot and holler over solid pars, Furyk added, "I don't think we have [heard roars] for the last few years. It's obviously a decision they [tournament officials] made. It's their event, a different golf course, and there's a different way to approach it now."

All over a silly little golf ball that no one wanted to roll back. Such a shame.

Meanwhile, even one of the old guard proudly declares its continued love for using course setup ploys to put the flatbellies in their place -- except at the Masters. 

John Hopkins writes of the course changes in The Times:

Some of the unique appeal of the Masters has gone as a result.