One of the greatest challenges of competitive golf is no two courses are alike. As a result, competitors this week have been frantically trying to work out the best course strategy that reflects not only their ability but also their current form.
Augusta National has a habit of making great golfers look decidedly ordinary. Much like St Andrews in Scotland, no-pressure practice rounds and easy pin positions can easily give players the wrong impression the course is there for the taking. But nothing could be further from the truth, for once the ceremonial shots are hit, the course comes alive.
Gone are the wide open fairways, the easy carries over doglegs and the quiet appreciative reverence of the galleries, replaced instead by raucus crowds cheering on every birdie around Amen corner. Gone too are the easy executions because from here on out, precision counts, with missed drives and inaccurate approach shots now threatening the player’s survival.
In the end, the greatest headwrecker of all is Augusta provides you with all the tools to succeed – the perfectly manicured course and green complexes, the reachable par fives, the appreciative galleries. But, as Rory McIlroy, Greg Norman, and endless others can attest to, where Augusta gives with one hand, it takes with the other. These same tools can humble and destroy you in an instant.
The statistical evidence suggests Ireland’s best hope for Masters glory will come from the “grand slam” chasing Rory McIlroy and the impressive Shane Lowry, both of whom possess the necessary power game to succeed around Augusta.
So let’s have a look at some of the key holes and evaluate how they are likely to play them, bearing in mind that these holes could well determine how competitive they are at the end of the week.
Holes 1 & 10
Key opening holes, none of which either player has birdied to date in their Masters careers.
The first shapes left to right with a protruding bunker up the right hand side at 300 yards. Advantage Lowry as the shape of the hole more naturally suits his left-to-right ball flight but this tee shot will give us a clear idea of McIlroy’s level of aggression and confidence.
The downhill 10th hole shapes from right to left so it should favour McIlroy’s natural ball flight. That said, throughout his Masters career, he has looked decidedly nervous and uncomfortable on this hole. The 10th doesn’t suit Lowry’s natural ball flight so dont be too surprised to see him hitting 3 metal of the tee box in an effort more easily shape the ball down the left side.
Neither player has birdied either of these holes in the Masters careers to date and they don’t need to but if they can average par for all four rounds on them, it will be a huge bonus to their title aspirations this week.
The Par 5s – 2, 13 & 15
With all of these three par 5 holes shaping from right to left, it is advantage McIlroy, but as this type shot produces a fast rolling ball, McIlroy has to be careful he doesn’t cut his margins too tight on the left-hand side, as it will invite lots of trouble.
The challenge for Lowry is much tougher as he has to commit to carrying his ball over tall pines, so any poor shots or bailouts will prove very costly.
Don’t be too surprised to see both players use a 3 wood off the 13th tee box but given both players’ excellence with long irons in their hands – accuracy more that power is essential for both players on these key holes.
All reachable, any player with title winning aspirations this week must play these 3 par 5 holes in 9 under par or more if they are to have any chance of winning this week.
The Par 3s: 12 & 16
One of Augusta’s greatest traits is the course doesn’t try to overpower you and in no place is this better represented than at the par 3s: the 12th and the 16th, where short irons are the norm.
That said, the over the water 12th which is located amongst the swirling winds at the bottom of the course, can prove notoriously difficult with its narrow green and bunkers front and back.
Proper wind judgment here is essential but so too is prudence for both players where four pars will set you up beautifully for the two remaining par fives in the round.
The 16th has proven to be a decisive hole in the tournament’s history so great respect must be shown to where the pins are positioned - especially the front right hand corner.
McIlroy and Lowry are naturally aggressive players and both will see these holes as opportunities but silly bogeys on either hole could prove calamitous to their prospects of winning the tournament.
And so the stage is set. To win, both McIlroy and Lowry will require a large slice of luck but they are now in control of their own destiny.
That said, as usual Augusta is likely to have some decisive role in determining the final outcome, one way or the other.
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