Apr 9, 2002 9:54 AM

The above headline is the cry of golfers, who believe the powers that rule over sacred Augusta National made course changes because of Tiger Woods.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter whether the course is longer or the rough higher. It all comes down to handling the super-slick greens. Woods, naturally is the favorite. LVSC opened Tiger at 2-1. Gold Coast was more generous at 3-1.

There’s just no way that Woods can’t be considered a factor at this, or any other, Masters. In fact, Woods becomes the favorite in any tournament he chooses to enter.

Can he add another Green Jacket to the one he earned last year? We’ll know late Sunday night. For sure, history follows Tiger in every major championship he competes in from this point forward.

There isn’t the pressure of completing the Golden Slam like last year at Augusta when ­­Tiger sought to own all four major titles (Masters, U.S. Open, PGA and British at the same time, but not in the same calendar year.

No, this year Tiger is calmer and rested. Woods did not compete last week at the Houston Open, but the challenge he faces will come from that winner, in general, and the International golfers in specific.

Yes, the strong feeling here is that an armada of very capable “foreigners” will be right with ­­Tiger at the top of the leaderboard when the tourney really begins Sunday on the back nine.

U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen opened at 17-1 at Gold Coast and seems a solid pick off his impressive win over Phil Mickelson and Jesper Parnevik at Atlanta.

Ernie Els (4-1) is the third top choice behind Woods and David Duval, who was runnerup to Woods last year. Els, from South Africa, is playing his best golf in five years.

Sergio Garcia (9-1) had a taste of the Masters drama several years ago when he pushed Tiger. Jose Maria Olazabal and Parnevik are part of the “field” at 11-2 at the Gold Coast. Olazabal has won the Masters twice and has played well on the Florida portion of the PGA Tour as he prepared for Augusta.

Parnevik has been second twice at the British Open and finished with a  65 last week at Atlanta to place second.

Mickelson is listed at 5-1, a good price for a golfer that most believe is destined sooner or later to win a major.

Vijay Singh (12-1) won two weeks ago at Houston with a record score, then took last week off. The additional length plays into his game.

The Masters also favors experienced players like Greg Norman, Nick Price, Nick Faldo and Fred Couples.

Chris DiMarco (20-1), arguably  the most consistent golfer this year on the PGA Tour, could steal the show.

T. Woods   3-1
D. Duval   7-2
E. Els   4-1
P. Mickelson   5-1
S. Garcia   9-1
V. Singh   12-1
D. Toms   14-1
R. Goosen   17-1
C. Howell III   18-1
C. DiMarco   20-1
The Field   11-2

Courtesy of  Gold Coast