Historically, the toughest holes at the Masters are the first three holes of the second nine at Augusta National — in order on the scorecard. The 10th hole is the toughest, followed by Nos. 11 and 12.
However, this week, the toughest hole has been the one that starts it all. The 445-yard, par-4 first hole is playing as the No. 1 handicap hole, to an average almost two-thirds of a stroke over par. That’s nearly a quarter-stroke higher than the second-handicap hole, No. 11.
Through two rounds, the first has yielded exactly three birdies: to James Hahn in Round 1 and to Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott in Round 2. On the other side of the scoring spectrum, defending Masters champion Danny Willett made a quadruple-bogey 8 to start his round on Friday, and two-time major winner Angel Cabrera took a triple bogey to kick off his second round.
Then there’s that six-putt Ernie Els had last year.
Since Augusta National chose to lengthen the golf course in the late 1990s and early 2000s (from 400 to 410 yards in 1999, then to 435 yards in 2002, then to 455 yards in 2008, then back to 445 yards) the first hole has continued to prove more difficult relative to the rest of the course. This year, its 4.63 scoring average is the highest in 70-plus years, ahead of the pace set in 2007 of 4.48, when Zach Johnson’s winning 72-hole score was over par.
The hole locations for the first two rounds have been particularly difficult: tucked on the back right of the putting surface on Thursday and almost impossible to reach on the left side on Friday. There’s no easy hole location on the green, but the middle of the green is somewhat accessible. That might be in play on Sunday.
The entirety of the hole has also played into the wind the first two days of the tournament, making a 450-yard hole with a right-side fairway bunker in play even more challenging. Knowing a difficult approach shot lingers, players try to power through the tee shot with bad results. If they do find the fairway, they’re faced with a longer-than-normal second shot that is pretty unforgiving.
In truth, the best way to play the hole is to hit the fairway and leave an approach shot 5 yards short of the putting surface. The up-and-down for par, if executed properly, leaves a reasonable uphill putt for a 4 that will gain ground on the field.
Before the week is through, there will be more players’ whose weekend Masters chances are dashed before they even get a look at the rest of the course.