Phil Mickelson and Ben Crenshaw have played in a combined 61 Masters Tournaments and know the course as well as anyone, so their opinion that the 14th green has undergone a subtle change since last year’s Masters can’t be ignored.
The men, who have combined to win five Masters titles, believe there was a slight change to the contours on the back-center of the green.
Crenshaw said he studied the area “quite a bit” during his practice round Monday and concluded there has been a change.
An Augusta National Golf Club spokesman says the green was rebuilt after last year’s Masters.
“I can tell you this from talking to (course superintendent) Marsh Benson and everybody else, there was no intent to change that back portion,” the spokesman said.
On the tournament’s Web site, masters.com, time-lapse photography shows how the 14th green was rebuilt over four months. In the 15-step outline of the work, the 14th step says: “The area is smoothed and firmed. Another laser scan confirms that the elevation is back to its original grade.”
According to masters.com, “Typically, one or two greens per year undergo a masterful renovation that uses the latest in technology to ensure near-perfect consistency.”
Tom Watson, who has won two Masters titles in his 39 appearances, didn’t see a change on the 14th green.
Mickelson did, and he thinks the change will make the hole play easier when the traditional Saturday pin is placed in that area – unless the shot is long.
Any helpful change would be welcomed on that green, which has more undulations than any on the course. Despite the fact that it is the only hole on the course without a bunker, the par-4 14th played as the 12th-toughest hole in 2012, with a 4.09 scoring average.
“You honestly wouldn’t even notice it (the change) if you had not had years of knowing that green,” said Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion who is making his 21st appearance at Augusta National. “But the difference is the pin position that I’ve holed out in 2010 in that little low section to the left, behind it, there’s a backstop now whereas before it would take the ball directly to the right behind the hole 12 feet. Now, it’s pitched a little bit more back where it will bring it back to the hole. Which means that it’s very possible that you might see more hole‑outs to that pin position.
“If you go long, though, I don’t think you can get it close, because of the pitch from back to front now is more severe on those last four feet.”
Crenshaw, who will be playing in his 42nd Masters, said, “I did notice there’s a little dug-out spot in the middle of the crease as it starts to go back down (toward the back). It used to be more of a continual slope. I think this probably creates a bit more spacing for pins, but it’s subtle. It’s not much, but it’s enough.”
Crenshaw said the change is “one way to enlarge the area for potential pin positions.”
“It’s more in the back-center,” he said. “It might create a little more room on the left. There was that little basin where they used to put the pin and where a lot of people got close on Saturday when they put it back there. Still, if they put the pins close to the crowns in front, that is still very tough. That really hasn’t changed.”
Such a change on No. 14 wouldn’t be noticed by Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, a Masters rookie. He did notice how much more definition there was as he hit his approach shots to the green with fans surrounding them Monday.
“When you come here and there’s no one around, it’s very difficult to picture the shots,” he said. “But once everybody settles in and sits around the green, everything shapes up in a certain way that it’s quite appealing. In a way, it’s easy to picture your shots into the greens. Of course, you’re going to have to get it right and all these slopes can play tricks.”
In general, Colsaerts has found the course “is much more subtle than I thought. You think that after watching it for so many years, you have an idea of what it’s going to be like, but everything is accentuated by a thousand times.”