With just days left until the 2014 Masters gets under way, our staff of senior writers and editors are taking a closer look at key players, the course and the history to preview the tournament.
Today, we offer up our thoughts on Augusta National, a course that has redefined course design.
Here’s today’s roundtable:
JIM McCABE: Azalea. Only the 17th at the Old Course rivals it for spectating joy. Watch from the group of pine trees where the hole turns left, or from the grandstands up at the green. Brilliant. And if you don’t know that we’re talking the par-5 13th then you need a refresher on Augusta National 101.
JEFF RUDE: If "all of them" is an inadequate answer, I’ll go with No. 15. The risk reward par 5 can produce scores from 3 to 8. I’ve seen it derail many a contender over the years. And sitting in the bleachers to the left of the green is perhaps my favorite viewing point on the course.
BRADLEY S. KLEIN: Without hesitation, I’ll tell you, the par-4 third hole, only 350 yards. Nobody talks about it. It has the most fairway bunkers of any hole on the course, four. And it has the most elusive green to hold. Recently it’s become drivable, and thus all the more tempting. Yet the closer to the benched-in putting your drive lands and the shorter your second shot, the harder it is to put enough spin on the wedge to have it hold. And the Sunday hole location on the left is probably the shallowest target of any green on the entire golf course. There are so many times where shots come up just short and tumble down or land without enough spin and go over – leaving incredibly delicate little recovery shots. I love watching guys bogie the hole after hitting their tee shots into the fairway 30 yards short of that green.
I also have a personal connection to the eighth hole. Every day, PGA club pro Carl Lohren sets up camp in the front row by the tee box and positions his chair so he can examine the grip of every player in the field. Lohren taught Deane Beman, a childhood friend and teammate from the University of Maryland, and the man who taught me the game, PGA master professional Gene Borek. I love listening to Lohren rate grips – “he’s got a plumber’s grip. I don’t know how he ever made the Tour with a grip like that” – and tell old stories about Beman and Borek, two of my favorite people in golf. It’s also a great location with the 17th green behind it, the 7th green in ear shot, and the 18th tee a stone’s throw away. Toss in a leaderboard, easy access to a concession stand and restrooms, and you’re set for a great viewing experience.
NICK MASUDA: I know this will be cliche, but the par-3 12th hole is incredible. The atmosphere, the obstacles, the pressure on what is a dinky hole by Augusta standards. It is great theater and gives no let up between the insanely tough 11th and tight 13th. Amen.
JIM McCABE: Players will at least breathe a little easier on the tee, but it remains to be seen whether the scoring average will be greatly effected. Remember, it’s all about the green. Hard not to dwell on Tiger Woods being pinned beneath the expansive tree in Round 3 in 2011. He escaped, but is said to have hurt himself in the process and he didn’t play another full tournament for four months.
JEFF RUDE: It should change the hole and make it easier. My most vivid memory is Tiger Woods slipping on it and apparently hurting his Achilles — sidelining him for a while.
BRADLEY S. KLEIN: Losing it will have virtually no impact on The Masters – not with the distance and trajectory that these players hit the ball these days. Losing it will only show that Augusta National has too many trees that block views and clutter up vistas and corridors. My most significant memory is the one time I played the course – 1987, the day after Larry Mize chipped in on the 11th hole to win – and I stood on the tee, looked at the tree, and knew there was no way I could carry it. Which is why I’m writing about The Masters, not playing in it.
ADAM SCHUPAK: I’m having a hard time picturing the hole without the 65-foot-tall loblolly pine hovering on the left side. No doubt, it makes 17 a much easier driving hole. How much of a factor did Ike’s tree play? Depends who you ask. Bubba Watson didn’t mince words, saying, “Let’s be honest, that tree was never in my way." . . . "Did it get in my way?" two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange said. "It was like George Brett at third base for me. It caught more line drives from me than I’m allowed to admit. That doesn’t hurt my feelings." . . . You know what hurt more than feelings? The former landmark inflicted its damage on Tiger Woods at the 2011 Masters when he injured his left Achilles tendon hitting from an awkward stance below Eisenhower’s Tree.
NICK MASUDA: I believe this might push more players to grip and rip, as there is one less chance for trouble. You might also see a few more birdies on this hole, which could set up an interesting back stretch on Sunday. And, in the two Masters I covered, I happened to be following Tiger Woods when he injured his Achilles while taking his famed shot from under that tree. You think that the best in the world don’t find trouble like that, but that tree seemed to reach out and grab an unexpected ball or two.
Let’s be honest, that tree was never in my way
JIM McCABE: Spend the money, buy a Masters chair, the ones without arms, and find a great spot to watch. The bend at the par-5 13th, up behind the seventh green, behind the tee at 12, No. 9 green, and somewhere around the second green is fantastic, too.
JEFF RUDE: First, shop in the merchandise pavilion and get it out of the way and mail the stuff home in the mail area next to the pavilion. Then find someone who has been to several Masters and persuade him to give you a 9- or 18-hole tour full of stories.
BRADLEY S. KLEIN: Walk the back nine. There’s no experience in golf for a fan like making that starting off on that trek down the right side of the 10thhole, 105-feet in elevation change from tee to the swale short of the green, and gaping in awe at the beauty and drama and scale of that golf theater.
ADAM SCHUPAK: Walk the course. Skip the gift shop, avoid the line for taking your picture with the Augusta flagstick, and make your way to the course. It’s one of those rare places that lives up to all the hype. My suggestion: walk the back nine first. It doesn’t get much better than strolling through Nos.10-13 early in the morning. And spend some time at Chinese Fur, the 440-yard, 14th and the only hole on the course without a bunker. While it may be overshadowed by so many other great holes, No. 14 is where my jaw hit the ground when I eyed the green on my first time touring the course. HDTV does not do the severity of the green justice. I would take a 3-putt and run.
NICK MASUDA: Yes, it’s important to bring gear home because it’s the only play you can find Masters-logoed stuff, but I say just start at No. 1 and walk the entire course. Take breaks under the tall trees, sit on a grassy hill and just soak it all in. There isn’t a blade of grass out of place, and it just feels like how golf was intended to be played.