Augusta National course guide: Back 9

For perennial home viewers of the Masters on television, familiarity breeds contentment. The recognition factor of these holes never gets tiring. And yet a close look for those lucky enough to tread the grounds of Augusta National even once reveals a whole new ballgame out there – on a scale of width and vertical intensity that the TV camera simply can’t capture.

Especially on a large screen, there’s something so comforting about the look and feel of these holes as the round unfolds and you observe play on this 7,435-yard, par-72 tract. So here’s some help for the couch potato about what to watch for in the golf course.

For golf fans who love architecture, after all, Augusta National is always the most interesting character in the field. In fact, it has 18 compelling personalities.

Check it out: Front 9 | Back 9

Historic avg.: 4.31 (1st)

Here’a big sweeping dogleg left that drops 105 feet from the tee. This stunning hole doesn’t really reveal itself until halfway down the fairway. It ultimately offers dramatic theater at the green, because the surface does not take well to low-slung approaches and tends to kick them far left into trouble below. The only remaining untouched bunker bearing Alister MacKenzie’s trademark sculpting sits 100 yards short of the green (it used to protect the old, original putting surface before it was moved) and looks great but goes basicaly untouched all week. The approach shot has to come in perfectly high and soft, and there’s no chance of run-up to the perched surface. Most spectators these days make a point of stopping deep in the woods on the far right, 150 yards from the green, to eye the place from which Bubba Watson hit his miraculous recovery with a wedge in the playoff against Louis Oosthuizen to win the 2012 Masters.

See a roundtable discussion of the best hole at Augusta National.

Historic avg.: 4.29 (2nd)

No big deal. Blind tee shot through a narrow chute. The right rough closed off by newly planted pine trees. The green protected by a pond and everything sloping that way (left). The camera angle from behind the green doesn’t quite convey how small a target line the players have to deal with.

Historic avg.: 3.28 (3rd)

It’s a testament to Augusta National’s genius that the shortest hole is so hard. It’s also the smallest green, set diagonally with the simple problem: If you’re right-handed and hit the right distance (measured to the center of the green) and tug it, you’re long left in the bunkers with an impossible up-and-down. If you hit the same center-of-the-green distance and push it to the right, you never get there and are in the creek. Here’s a green with no support, no definition from the tee. It takes skill and then some, including the luck to catch it right, before the wind changes – at is always does here.

Historic avg.: 4.80 (17th)

Modern 3-metals that players can turn over from the tee and still hit 290 yards have taken a lot of the risk out of this hole – which has always been hitting it too far left into the creek. The contrary risk off the tee is to blow a driver through the corner of the dogleg right and wind up in the heavily planted pine trees. With a creek lapping the front and right of the putting surfce, the smart, safe play is often long or left, though that will leave one of the scariest recoveries on the course – to a green titling away and toward the water. No hole on the course more deftly combines the need for both power and grace than this one.

Historic avg.: 4.17 (8th)

The only unbunkered hole on the course, and with a complex green that from front to-back (including the mounds behind) actually has more elevation change than all of Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina. Here’s a hole where the smart golfer feeds the ball in and, from the fairway, has to read the approach shot and roll-out as if it were a long putt. Misread or mishit the approach slightly and you’re left looking foolish and with a 10-footer or so for par – or worse.

Historic avg.: 4.78 (18th)

Drive it in the fairway and you have a clear go at this green in two. Everyone focuses on the pond that guards the front, as well as the steep bank of the green in the front that means anything short or even on the front of the green will likely roll back down into the pond. But from the top of the fairway looking down upon the domed green, players also worry about hitting it long and having the ball run into a pond on the far side that’s part of the 16th hole. Given these issues, often the safe bailout is to hit a second shot into the greenside bunker on the right. It’s also a smart play here, if there’s any doubt about going for it, simply to lay back and leave a 90-yard pitch into the green. Though no one facing that shot from now on will forget the fate of Tiger Woods here in last year’s second round, when his third shot from 96 yards out hit the flagstick and kicked into the pond. What happened next – a wrong drop and a subsequent penalty – cost him a chance at his fifth green jacket. And with Tiger not in the field this year, the poignancy of that moment is all the more intense.

Historic avg.: 3.15 (9th)

The hole is at its easiest Sunday when the hole is cut in a convex part of the left green. It’s at its toughest when the hole is way right, usually on Saturday, against the high-side bunker there.

Historic avg.: 4.15 (10th)

Oh, will they be pining for this one. Back in February during a heavy storm, the historic 80-foot loblolly pine (the "Eisenhower Tree”) on the left side, 200 yards from the tee, got so badly damaged it had to be removed. The good lords of Augusta National could have replaced it – at a cost of $250,000 – in time for this year’s Masters, but opted not to. All week, we’ll be hearing TV chatterers analyze it as if a celebrity had died. The likelihood is that its loss will have no impact on scoring, other than making the hole more beautiful by revealing a better view of the hole. In fact, the wider vista of the tee might actually encourage bolder driving and more tee shots straying left than would have been the case had the tree stayed. Besides, the hole is all about the green, one which rolls over and away and feeds golf balls from the center.

Historic avg.: 4.22 (7th)

Tight off the tee, and after hitting a series of draws all day you’re now asked to adjust to a slight fade. No wonder so many people block it dead right into the trees. It’s also one of those complex, multi-tiered greens where from above the hole it’s hard to stop it close to the cup.