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A closer look at the three most integral holes at Augusta National

The Masters The Masters - The Canadian Press

While most golf fans have never set foot on Augusta National, it is one of the best-known layouts in golf.

Many of those who tune in each April for the year’s first major can recite the par and yardage of all 18 holes in order and describe pivotal moments that happened on each one.

Rory McIlroy snap-hooking it into the trees by the cabins? That was on the 10th hole. Phil Mickelson hitting it between two trees and on to the green? That was on 13. Remember Tiger Woods’ chip that hung on the lip before falling in? That happened on 16.

The annual playing of the Masters has given fans a regular look at one of the game’s most exclusive courses. It’s almost as if they can smell the azaleas through the screens of their devices. It’s also allowed many to pick out the make-or-break holes that often determine which golfer gets to slip on the green jacket.

It can be argued that each hole at the Alister MacKenzie-designed course is pivotal, and each one of the 18 has seen its share of successes and calamities that play a part in the final score.

However, here are the three most integral holes that lead annually to the lowest score.

10, Par 4, 495 yards

The start of the back nine almost always plays as the hardest hole on the course.

The 10th hole is sloped so severely from tee to an area in front of the green that if it was a ski hill, it would be tagged with a black diamond.

Two thirds of the way down the hole is a large bunker. And by large, we mean almost 60 yards long. The tee shots rarely find this sand and it seems more a visual distraction than anything else.

Players try to keep their tee shots to the left side of the fairway, which allows for an easier second shot to the green which is quite elevated and sloping from back to front. That approach is no easy shot. Golfers must hit a ball that is well below their feet to the putting surface. If they happen to find the bunker on the right side of the green, then getting up and down is next to impossible.

The 10th hole was the start of what was a stunning meltdown. In 2011, a 21-year-old Rory McIlroy arrived at Augusta National on Sunday carrying a four-shot lead and looking like the favourite to slip on the green jacket. But when he reached the 10th tee, his lead had shrunk to just a single shot.

Standing on the 10th tee, he snap-hooked his tee shot in between two cabins to the extreme left of the hole and was forced to chip out. Five swings later, McIlroy carded a triple-bogey seven and never regained the lead.

Perhaps the most remarkable shot at the 10th was made in a playoff. Bubba Watson faced off against Louis Oosthuizen and on the first extra hole hit his tee shot deep into the woods on the right.

Rather than chip out, he played a severe draw from the trees, slinging the ball 40 yards from left to right, around a corner and up onto the green just 10 feet from the hole. Two putts later, he was the Masters champion.

12, Par 3, 155 yards

The 12th hole doesn’t look to be all that difficult. After all, it’s a relatively short par 3 that is not much more than a short iron for most pros.

The challenge comes in trying to decipher the wind. Sitting at the lowest point of the golf course and in a mesh of trees to the left, right and behind the tee, it can be next to impossible to find just exactly what the breezes are doing.

Look over at the flag at the 11th and it’s blowing left to right. Look up at the green and the flag is stretched out right to left. Stand on the tee and it feels as if it’s dead into your face. Feeling confident over the shot is never easy.

In addition to the wind, the green sits at an angle to the tee with the left front closer than the back right. It can add another layer in trying to pull the proper club, especially if the pin is tucked at one side of the green.

The safe shot is often to play for the middle and take the two-putt par. That’s often been the strategy of Tiger Woods who never made a birdie on the 12th hole in any of his five victories at Augusta National.

The two most famous disaster here came from Greg Norman and Jordan Spieth.

In 1996, after starting Sunday leading by six shots, Norman’s tee shot ended up in Rae’s Creek and led to a double-bogey. He lost the lead and never recovered.

Spieth was ahead by three when he stood on the 12th tee, but he ended up in the water not once, but twice, depositing his tee shot and then his drop en route to a quadruple bogey.

13, Par 5, 545 yards

Despite being lengthened by 35 yards in 2023, the 13th remains the shortest of the four par 5s at Augusta National.

Prior to tacking on the additional yardage, the 13th was one of the easiest holes on the course. Players smoked a driver around the corner and played a short iron to the green, setting up opportunities for eagles and birdies.

When he won the Masters in 2014, Watson slung his tee shot 360 yards, around the corner of the hole, leaving him with just a sand wedge into the green. Two putts later, he’d logged a relatively easy birdie and was on his way to a Masters title.

With the additional yardage now tacked on, however, the 13th hole is much more of a threat. Most tee shots no longer get around the corner and instead hang up on a strong sidehill lie, meaning those who want to try to reach the green in two will be playing a long iron or hybrid from a challenging lie.

Far more take the safe route and elect to lay up, trusting a short wedge shot will get it close enough to leave them a chance for birdie.

On the final day of play last year, just four golfers managed to find the putting surface with two swings.

That’s precisely what the guardians of Augusta National wanted with the added yardage; to have players face a risk-reward decision instead of simply reaching for a wedge.

Of course, every hole at Augusta National will play a role in determining just which golfer earns the win at this year’s Masters, but the player who can manage these three will face a much better chance of winning the green jacket.