By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Golf has come a long way since Tiger Woods changed the nature of the sport following his maiden major triumph 20 years ago - courses are longer, players are fitter and equipment is advancing as quickly as technology will allow.
Fans, however, are divided on what they want to see at the big events with the ones that love nothing more than an endless stream of birdies opposed by those who delight when the top players struggle to break par in semi-hurricane conditions.
When Woods won the 1997 U.S. Masters with a staggering 18-under total it appeared no course could withstand the best in the game. Yet 10 years later, Zach Johnson claimed the same event at Augusta in freezing conditions with a one-over tally.
Players admit that while the weather is one of the major factors in determining the outcome of a tournament, courses do not have to be outrageously long to offer up any sort of resistance to the current crop of top professionals.
"What's interesting is that if a course is short and firm, it will play tougher than a long and wet one," Australian world number seven Adam Scott told reporters ahead of the Singapore Open on Wednesday.
"So it seems the golf clubs, tournaments and the set-up committees are struggling to find a balance for us because the separation between a professional and a regular golfer is greater than ever and we play completely different games now.
"To have a course long enough for us is almost impossible yet everyone wants a course that can challenge a pro. But if they are short and firm, like Hilton Head for example, shooting under par is a good score."
BEAT THE PRO
Scott admitted that while scores on links courses exposed to the elements were as fickle as the winds that blew across them, conditions at some of the major tournaments in the United States had become a little too extreme.
"For them to be set up where five-over is a winning score is almost so unplayable that if you are not playing five-over and winning, I think its getting away from golf in my opinion," the 36-year-old 2013 Masters champion added.
"We are losing balls at U.S. Opens five yards away from the green in some of the grass but I guess its a testament to how good the players are now, how good you have to be and how difficult they have to set a course up to 'beat the pro'.
Fellow major winner Ernie Els said he preferred a tougher course set-up while adding that leading professionals had become so skilful that the kind of dominance Woods enjoyed for more than decade would be almost impossible to emulate.
"When I was in my prime, I always wanted to play at venues where it was really quite difficult as I felt I had a better chance," the South African said.
"Nowadays, to separate yourself from the rest you have to really do something special and that will become more difficult to do. But if the weather plays along at this year's major championships, you could see scores of around par again."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)