Picking out the toughest holes at Augusta National is like being asked to rank America’s Most Wanted List in terms of the guys you’d least want to meet in a dark alley.
The bottom line is that you don’t want to mess with any of them and while the iconic par-three 12th, the colourful par-five 13th and 15th holes or the exciting short 16th capture the imagination of millions of viewers every year, it’s easy to overlook three holes that often decide the destiny of the green jacket — the par-four 10th, 14th and 17th.
Just ask Pádraig Harrington, whose opening 78 was his highest ever round in 14 Masters appearances.
“I would say there’s 18 holes there that are daunting when they want them to be,” said the Dubliner, who was three over par for those three holes. “There’s no easy hole on that golf course, unless they put in an easy pin. Then you have a chance but they rarely give you something that doesn’t have a down side.
“It’s very rare you have the opportunity to make birdie without the possibility of bogey or double-bogey if you don’t execute the shot well. I don’t think there’s a soft hole on the course.”
The downhill 10th measures 495 yards from the back tees, curving right to left amid towering pines and snow white bunkers. It remains fresh in the memory as much for defending champion Bubba Watson’s Masters winning wonder shot from the trees in last year’s play-off as the triple bogey seven that led to Rory McIlroy’s spectacular back nine collapse in 2011.
Ben Crenshaw holed a 60 foot putt there en route to victory in 1984 but there are plenty of disasters.
Scott Hoch will never forget the three footer he missed to win the Masters against Nick Faldo in the play-off in 1989 or the pair of double bogeys that Greg Norman made there in 1986, when Jack Nicklaus triumphed over the Australian and Tom Kite by one stroke.
In 2003, Len Mattiace hooked his approach left, down the hill and took another four shots to hole out, losing the play-off to Canada’s Mike Weir on the hole that is historically the toughest with a scoring average of 4.32
Harrington has no doubt about the toughest aspect of the hole. “The tee shot, he said. “The fairway is 80 yards wide and it’s all tee shot. Hit a great tee shot down there and you feel good about the rest of the hole. Hit a bad tee shot down there and you know you’re in trouble.
“Hit a good tee shot and it gets down there and it’s running round the corner, it’s shortening the hole, you’re on the flat and you’re okay. Miss it and you’re on a downslope, you’ve got a sidehill lie, you don’t want to hit it right and you definitely don’t want to go left. That tee shot on 10 is a big part of a round at Augusta.
“The landing area is 80 yards wide but you’ve got to hook it to get it there. It’s still 40 or 50 yards wide from the top of the right slope to the left hand trees but you’re trying to hook it around there. You don’t want to hit it straight. I’m sure if you’re a natural drawer of a ball it’s probably pretty straightforward but...
“There’s a lot of holes at Augusta like that. Get a good drive down nine and, all of a sudden, it’s a nice hole. You feel good about things. The tee shot sets up a lot of confidence on a lot of holes.”
The same can he said of the 14th, named Chinese Fir, which is the only hole on the course without a bunker.
It doesn’t need one.
Measuring 440 yards, its defence is not so much the left to right sloping fairway but the fiendishly contoured green that cost Harrington another stroke on Thursday.
Having hit what he thought was a perfect approach, he watched in horror as his ball caromed off a slope, leaving him a horrific putt. He three-putted, losing all momentum.
The 440-yard 17th is equally unforgiving as it climbs uphill to another sadistically designed green complex. Avoiding the Eisenhower Tree on the left hand side is the first challenge but it’s really all about the green.
It famously cost former pro and whacky TV commentator Gary McCord his job covering the Masters.
In 1994 he said Augusta’s 17th green was so fast it could have been “bikini-waxed,” while things were even worse for players whose approach shots over the back and down a steep slope alongside the “body bags” that were waiting for them if they went long.
McCord hasn’t been asked back and following his double bogey six there on Thursday, Harrington’s hopes of winning the 2013 Masters were also interred as he went long and then three-putted.
“I remember Olazábal on the back of 17,” Harrington recalled. “Didn’t he bump it into the bank and one bounce it up there. I remember that shot … that was a pretty cool shot, I tried it at home for years. To be able to hit a ball into a bank and spin it so that it comes up. That was one I’ll always remember.”
Now he has another Masters memory — his first double bogey on a hole he’d played in two under par in 45 previous rounds.