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Exploding the myths of the Masters

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Rob Hodgetts | 08:13 UK time, Wednesday, 4 April 2012

With the Masters in the same place every year we all think we know a bit about the course and the attributes needed to do well.

But how well do some of the common traits stand up to scrutiny? Let's find out.

You need to be a big hitter to do well at Augusta

You will hear plenty of chat about how so-and-so is not long enough around Augusta, and how since the course was lengthened it has become a "bombers' paradise".

The extra length, dubbed "Tiger-proofing" to combat the new generation and new technology, took the course from 6,985 yards in 2001 to 7,270 yards in 2002 and then 7,445 yards for 2006. (10 yards were then lopped off after 2008).

The knee-jerk reaction was that short hitters, having to fire at greens with a longer and harder-to-stop iron, no longer had a chance.

In reality, less powerful players have continued to prosper. Mike Weir (2003) and Zach Johnson (2007) both won - and in soft conditions - and are at the shorter end of the spectrum off the tee.

Last year's winner Charl Schwartzel was way down the field for driving distance stats with an average drive of 278.38 yards, with the two men tied second, Jason Day and Adam Scott, in midfield at 287 yards.

Brendan Steele, Craig Stadler and Tim Clark tee-off first at the Masters on Thursday. Photo: Getty

Alvaro Quiros was the longest with an average drive of 303.38 yards with Rory McIlroy second at 303.12. But Quiros ended tied 27th, while McIlroy's length could not help him during his fateful final-day collapse.

"If someone offered me another 40 yards and I could keep the accuracy I'd break their arms for it, but you have still got to drive it in play," said Ian Poulter.

"There is more to Augusta than just long hitting, and if that is the only tool in your bag you are not going to succeed," said Lee Westwood.

Augusta favours a player who draws the ball

A number of Augusta's holes are right-to-left doglegs so players who can shape the ball around the corner off the tee are deemed to have an advantage.

The 10th and 13th certainly require a draw (right-to-left shot for a right-hander), and maybe others such as the ninth depending on how players see the hole.

But Jack Nicklaus won six Green Jackets as a fader, while Nick Faldo won three with this left-to-right shape.

"You don't have to draw the ball as much as people think," said Paul Casey. "You've got to be able to work the ball a bit right to left, but you don't need a big hook. You need a high ball flight, just to land it softly on some of those greens."

Johnson said: "I think you've got to curve it both ways. I don't think it's imperative to have a draw. You have to have every aspect of your game on here, control of spin, distance control, trajectory.

"When the greens are firm and you want to come in softly a high fade is never a bad shot to have."

You must score well on the par fives

The par fives at Augusta are the four easiest holes on the course and making the most of their scoring potential is often spoken about as one of the keys to winning the Masters. But they can also be your downfall.

Champion Schwartzel had seven birdies on the par fives during the week but his win ultimately came from the unprecedented four birdies to finish. Runners-up Day and Scott both had nine birdies in all, while Steve Stricker, who finished tied 11th, led the way with 12. KJ Choi (8th), Bubba Watson (tied 38th) and Nick Watney (46th) were next with 10. Quiros, for all his length, only had six.

"You have to play them at least half under par for the week," said Woods. "There are so many pin locations on the par threes and fours that make it very difficult to make birdies."

Johnson famously did not take on any of the par fives in two when he won and made 11 birdies and five pars.

"It wasn't a gameplan, that's a misconception," he told me. "You've just got to go with what the course gives you."

Mickelson's famous gamble from behind the trees on 13 paid off and set up his win in 2010, but his strategy at the 15th has changed over the years.

"I played 15 in the past as a must-birdie and I have made some epic numbers there that have cost me several Masters," he said. "I'll accept par now. Maybe I'll get lucky, but I'm not going to lose ground to the field."

Amen Corner is the hardest part of the course

Yes and no. The term "Amen Corner" was coined for the infamous stretch of holes comprising the 11th, 12th and 13th.

But problems really start on the 495-yard par-four 10th, historically the hardest hole on the course. You only have to ask McIlroy about that.

The par-four 11th and the tricky short 12th are the third and second toughest overall respectively, but the par-five 13th has rated the second easiest over the years, though plenty of people have come a cropper with the tee shot. Remember McIlroy slumped over his driver last year?

But Augusta's less-hyped front nine has banana skins of its own. The fourth and fifth are actually the fourth and fifth toughest, with the first the sixth most difficult.

"The first is a very underrated hole," said Paul Casey. It's a very difficult par four, especially when guys are nervous, and excited to be teeing off in the Masters. It's just a very hard green, like an upturned saucer, and very difficult to control the ball on.

"The fourth is a hugely long par three - 260 yards. Five is an incredibly difficult green. Guys will err short, long is no good whatsoever. It's probably one of the most difficult greens to read on the golf course.

"But every hole has dangers. You cannot take your eye off the ball. As soon as you relax and start enjoying the surroundings is when Augusta jumps up and grabs you."

The best putter always wins at Augusta

Not always, but he'll be close. Schwartzel was second behind Donald in the stats for average number of putts per hole last year. And four of the top five in those putting stats were in the top six on the leaderboard.

By contrast Justin Rose, who tied 11th and was joint leader of greens in regulation with David Toms, languished 45th in the putting stats.

"Generally the guys that have won here have really putted well, avoided three-putts and made the big 10ft or so for par. Those are huge around here," said Woods.

"I think it's a product of good ball-striking if you're able to putt well, because if you miss in the correct spot, it's an easy chip or putt. If you catch the wrong sides of slopes, miss them by a yard, you can be 40, 50, 60ft away."

Schwartzel said: "You play week in and week out on fast greens, but not nearly as fast as you get at Augusta. If you know the greens well, you can actually use them to your benefit rather than thinking that you should be scared of them."

"They are so fast, everything is magnified. Even if it is a little bit off line it just gets magnified. Reading them is the most important thing. But it is easier to remember the breaks than to see them," Mickelson said.

Experience is key

It would certainly seem so. Disregarding the first two tournaments, Fuzzy Zoeller (1979) is still the only man to have won the Masters on his debut.

But plenty of debutants have gone close - Day was second last year, Donald was third in 2005, Casey sixth in 2004. Schwartzel was only playing in his second Masters but like many before him had consulted various past champions, notably Jack Nicklaus, to help learn its secrets.

The average number of Masters before a first win is six, and it took three-time champion Phil Mickelson 11 attempts to win as a pro.

"You need to know, before you hit each shot, what is out there," said Schwartzel. "Obviously last year I hit the right shots at the right time and things went for me. Maybe I was fortunate to win on my second appearance. But generally the more you play it, the more chance you have of succeeding."

"It's around the greens, knowing where to miss shots, knowing certain putts," said Johnson. "There's so many subtleties, and sometimes you think it's a subtlety but it's actually a major break. I'm still learning."

"It's a bit of everything, lines, knowing when to be aggressive, when to be cautious. Being patient is important," said Casey.

"Every player knows where and when not to hit to certain pin locations but the more you get used to it, the better you become at following those rules," said Poulter.

"You can have all the knowledge you want but you've still got to hit some good shots," said Scott.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    There is a simple answer to all this whoever plays best wins its a combination of a player having their whole game working well together simples

  • Comment number 2.

    Here is the secret to winning The Master.
    Shoot the lowest score.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think if you gave any golfer the choice of fading or drawing the ball round Augusta they would all chose the latter. Monty always said the Masters was the hardest major for him to win due to his ball flight. OK both Jack and Sir Nick faded it but they won before the Tiger-proofing went on. Extra length does not help a fade either.

  • Comment number 4.

    *sigh.

    "Shoot the lowest score". "get the most points".

    I've seen a few posts like this lately. THEY ARE NOT FUNNY OR WITTY.

    As for the golf, best short game players will do well. If Rory's short game is like it was in the Honda he'll have a great shout. Luke is to the fore here too. Its avoiding the bogeys on the card will determine the winner I'd suggest so scrambling is key. Any historic scrambling stats Rob?

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Look at the Weather. A lot of the time Augusta is in bright sunshine with rock hard greens where experience really matters but the greens are soft at the moment due to rain. Thursday and Friday are set to be a complete mixture of conditions and I can see 2 or 3 players getting breaks with the weather, storming into the lead before being chased down at the weekend. It depends who those players are and whether they have the capability to stay there. I think that will decide the winner

  • Comment number 7.

    @1 and 2...That's just stupid.

    Good blog, interesting read.

  • Comment number 8.

    Ridiculously excited for Thursday evening! Would love a Donald or Westwood win; but it could just as easily be Mahan or Day; Woods or Mickleson. Who knows? That's why I love The Masters!

    Great blog, the thing I took from it... the player who masters his game and the conditions the best will win.

  • Comment number 9.

    Enjoyable read thanks Rob.

    I love the Masters, it's mine and my girdfriend's birthdays this weekend and neither of us can wait for the action to begin. I normally pick 3 players to put a couple of pound on before the action starts but I'm struggling this year. Donald will definitely be one of them, I really think this year he'll finally break his duck. Dustin Johnson was going to be one of my other picks but he's pulled out with a back injury so I'll have to rethink it, possibly Kuchar. One thing's guaranteed with a major weekend though, there'll definitely be a few surprises.

  • Comment number 10.

    How can this be a blog about myths & the Masters, and not look at the history of African - American members of the Augusta National ?

  • Comment number 11.

    Good read.

  • Comment number 12.

    Nice read Rob, I have given up working out which "Type" of player is right for Augusta, I used to think it was the experienced champs like Faldo, Crenshaw, Nicholas etc but then Fuzzy Zoeller blows that theory away, WAIT, the big hitters, Cabrera, Woods, ....but then Mike Weir!
    Skill merchants like Seve, Olazabal and Mickelson...but also total pros like Mark O'Meara and one famous win/shot guys like Larry Mize???
    This course must have something for everyone, so I am expecting......Lee Westwood this time....the course suits players with an "e" in their name!

  • Comment number 13.

    Here's a couple of interesting facts on the masters:

    1) American born players have produced the most wins in the masters (56 I believe).
    2) However, in the last 5 years, 3 foreign based players have won.
    3) Since 2006, the winner of the masters is more often than not a player who has had no tour wins that year leading up to the masters.

  • Comment number 14.

    "The fourth is a hugely long par three - 260 yards". This is very true - especially to a narrow green. However, on Friday last year they did shorten the hole by about 80 yards. I should know - I was there !

  • Comment number 15.

    I think one of the keys to winning anywhere is consistency. If you look at the last 2 years, there is one player who has had a consistency that nobody else can get near. I think KJ Choi stands a fantastic chance. I think from my digging around, he has finished in the top 6 or thereabouts for 7 out of the last 8 rounds at Augusta. If you check the records, thats consistency you cant buy. I've gone for him, at 66/1 on an each wayer I didnt think I could afford not to.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Actually @7 why did I take the bait was trying to make splint that someone who is on top of all facets of their game will win,which although I think he is a great golfer Westwood won't win as putting is not up to the standard needed to win but will happily eat a large slice of a certain pie.

  • Comment number 18.

    Could have been a much better article if it had covered the 'myths' of divots pianted over green and colured water in the lakes............

  • Comment number 19.

    # 15

    can he shoot 30 back nine on sunday ?

    the course is set up a little easier this year, look to one of the best scorers on tour to get the job done:

    tiger Woods or rory mcilroy or phil mickleson

    done

  • Comment number 20.

    The consistent theme seems to be a lot of the 'myths' about The Masters are just that, myths. You don't have to hit long, you don't have to nail the par 5's, you don't need to naturally draw the ball.

    However whilst I would avoid saying the following are must have's... it seems a conclusion the article makes is that if you haven't played Augusta at least once, and are putting in the top 5% of the field, you won't win.

    So. having said that I plan on going straight to the bookies and lumping in on a debutant with the yipps!

  • Comment number 21.

    The biggest myth is that people think they know how to win at The Masters! Looking through it's history you have so many 1 time major winners and a lot of first time major winners.
    A lot of people saying it will be Woods, McIlroy or Mickleson. Personally I think it will be 1 of about 40 people! Always has been, always will!
    Really hope it's a Brit, and have a feeling about Justin Rose this week.

  • Comment number 22.

    the blog could have been shortened to

    "anyone in the field can win the masters but it helps if you can draw or fade the ball, or even hitting it straight is good"

  • Comment number 23.

    @3 - have to disagree there.... as the blog suggests, the key is hitting it in the right place on the greens, a high ball flight (and preferably a fade) helps. There are 4, maybe 5 tee shots which 'require' a draw/hook and as long as a player has the shot in his armoury, he'll be looking to hit high cuts into all the greens. Look at the list of winners over the years, overwhelmingly faders. Plus - don't listen to Monty's excuses for not winning round there! Simple reason is he was never a good enough putter!

  • Comment number 24.

    Jack Nicklaus would learn how to draw the ball with Jack Grout in the six weeks leading up to each Masters.

  • Comment number 25.

    Great bogs Rob - really interesting and well written.

    Phil Mick to win.

  • Comment number 26.

    @24 - he spent a couple of weeks with Grout at the start of each year and worked on the basics. One of which was the ability to draw the ball on queue, which you need round Augusta. Nicklaus still hit the majority of his shots round the course with a fade though.

  • Comment number 27.

    Will England get their first major winner in nearly 20 years?

    Luke Donald
    Lee Westwood
    Justin Rose

    Any of the above could win.

  • Comment number 28.

    Really looking forward to the golf but not the shouts of "get in the hole" - Americans!

  • Comment number 29.

    dont fancy ian poulter then @jamesmatthew?

  • Comment number 30.

    #29 No Poulter hasn't the game to win a major...even when he was at his best he never looked like winning one....2008 British Open he did well but thats it.

  • Comment number 31.

    has he not finished 5th at the masters before?

  • Comment number 32.

    no - best finish tied 10th

    he did finish 3rd at arnold palmer invitational so in decent form

  • Comment number 33.

    The winner? The winner will be the player who goes for his shots, never holds back and reads the greens well...Westwoods year for me!

  • Comment number 34.

    I honestly think the winner will be the person who is top of the leaderboard after the four rounds!! LOL.

    Seriously though, it definitely will be!! :-D

    I can't help but think that the course is set up perfectly for an outsider this year, Corbin Mills is my tip, or possibly Sandy Lyle, as long as he doesn't storm off in a huff like at the Open Championship a couple of years back!!

    Get in the hooooooooooole!! :-D

  • Comment number 35.

    Really looking forward to this one this year, I recon the man donning the green jacket on Sunday will be the winnner.

    That person being Eldrick, lump on.

  • Comment number 36.

    If only play at The Masters really looked like THIS.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCT3j8OqlhI then I would watch it...

    Tiger Woods fails to outwit the double cork screw - now that's what I call classic golf!

  • Comment number 37.

    Good read Rob,can't wait for it to start it should one of the most exciting masters tournaments yet particularly with the recent form of Donald,McIlroy,Woods and Rose who I feel would be a very good outside bet.Golf lovers strap yourselves in the next four days should be a blast!

  • Comment number 38.

    love it ! cant wait for it to start...its all about the flatstick at Augusta for me....and them! These guys have all the shots but straight after they smile at the thought of driving down Magnolia lane again thoughts turn to praying for no 3 putts!! Westwood no hope,course looks soft so its a wide open one this year just dont think westy has the bottle in the really big ones plus at the elite level his short game is improving towards great but not excellent which it needs to be to ice the deal against the very best...Rose a decent shout & Mahan looking very smooth at the moment altho his short game migght not hold up either...

  • Comment number 39.

    Nice article, thanks! The Master's for me marks the beginning of summer. One useless piece of golf trivia is that up until Mike Weir won his Master's, no left handed player had won a Major. The following year, Phil Mickelson won his first Masters. Like many, I think it could be McIlroy this year, although Hunter Mahan could prove he's not just a great match-play golfer.

  • Comment number 40.

    Really interesting piece! The Masters has always had a special place in my heart and that is down to the mythology and legend surrounding it as a tournament and a spectacle.

    I think Rory can come back from last year's meltdown and push the likes of Woods all the way. I also fancy Justin Rose and Jason Day (if he is fully fit) to have a big week and get themselves in contention. I also think Donald will at least feature in the top 10.

    For more views... http://jackhayward1989.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/the-masters-2012-whos-up-for-the-green-jacket/

  • Comment number 41.

    post 34-
    Supposing there is a tie at top of Leaderboard after 4 rounds?

    Are you saying that if Fuzzy Zoeller finished tied 1st he'd lose because of the alphabet?

    Crazy stuff!!!

    I'm deffo backing Tommy Armour III now!

 

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