Augusta National Golf Club’s 11th hole is no longer the pushover it was a decade ago.
After being singled out by former Masters Tournament Chairman Hootie Johnson because he once saw Phil Mickelson boom a drive and have nothing more than a short pitch into the start of Amen Corner, the hole has played the hardest since sweeping changes were made before the 2002 Masters.
At the time, Johnson said “our objective is to keep this golf course current.” Advances in technology were cited as the primary factor for the changes, and golf architect Tom Fazio was commissioned to change nine holes – Nos. 1, 7-11, 13, 14 and 18.
Four years later, Fazio oversaw another set of changes as six holes – Nos. 1, 4, 7, 11, 15 and 17 – were lengthened. Augusta National went from 6,985 yards to its current length of 7,435 yards.
No. 11 – White Dogwood – played as long as 455 yards through 2001, but it now plays as a 505-yard par-4 with a bailout area on the right side of the fairway now populated with several pine trees.
Analyzing data for the past 10 Masters, the hole played to an average of 4.3506, making it the most difficult since the changes took effect.
No. 10, a 495-yard par-4, ranks the toughest all-time with an average of 4.32 since the Masters began tracking data in 1942.
With no big changes made since 2006, most players think Augusta National has the course just right.
“I think for today’s player they’ve done a marvelous job,” two-time winner Ben Crenshaw said. “Sure, when you’re not getting some run in the ground it seems inordinately long, but that’s for a lot of people. You hit longer clubs into the green and you’re hitting flatter shots. But they have the means to dry it out.”
The toughest three holes in Masters history have been Nos. 10, 12 and 11. For the past decade, No. 10 follows No. 11 in difficulty but No. 1 has become the third toughest thanks to changes that added 35 yards and increased the bunker complex.
No. 18, which was lengthened 55 yards to 465, checks in as the fourth hardest for the past decade.
Surprisingly, the par-3 fourth has become slightly easier despite the club adding 35 yards in 2006. The 240-yard hole averaged 3.2404 from 2002 to 2011; historically, it has played to an average of 3.29.
No mention of pending course changes was made Wednesday by Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne during his “State of the Masters” address.
“I think everybody’s happy with it,” Fazio said Wednesday.
Cold weather in 2007 produced an over-par winning score for Zach Johnson, and a year later high winds in the final round allowed Trevor Immelman to win by three shots despite closing with 75.
The weather cooperated the past three years and produced low scores:
• In 2009, Angel Cabrera won a sudden-death playoff after he tied Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell at 276.
• In 2010, Phil Mickelson closed with a pair of 67s and threatened the 72-hole scoring record with his total of 272.
• In 2011, Charl Schwartzel became the first Masters champion to finish with four consecutive birdies. His 274 total was good for a two-shot win.
Mickelson said the changes have brought more elements into play.
“What it did was it allowed the course to have more than one defense,” he said. “The only defense it had in the ’90s was the greens, and so they were extremely firm, extremely fast, speeds and firmness that we haven’t seen since. Because now distance is also a defense, as well as the trees and the (second) cut, and there’s some other things that have been added.”
Length is always an advantage at the Masters, and the past 10 tournaments have produced long-hitting champions, with the exception of Mike Weir in 2003 and Johnson in 2007. Johnson never went for any of the par-5s in two when he won.
Tiger Woods, who won two of his four Masters after the first round of changes, said the par-5s are still key.
“Zach proved you don’t have to always go for them. But you still have to play them well,” Woods said. “You have to play them at least half under par for the week. I mean, you just have to take care of those par-5s, because there are so many pin locations on the par-4s and the par-3s, that it just gets very difficult to make easy birdies.”
1942-2001 COURSE STATISTICS
|Hole||2001 Yardage||Average through 2001||Rank||2011 yardage||Average 2002-2011||Rank|