Bubba Watson held his right arm out to his side and hung his head as his tee shot sailed toward the woods to the right of the 10th fairway at Augusta National. For a moment, it looked as though he would be the latest victim of what perennially is the toughest hole at the Masters.
What followed was a great escape and a green jacket.
“If I have a swing, I’ve got a shot,” he loves to tell his caddie, and this one immediately took its place in Masters lore. Watson had to hit a 40-yard hook – low until it cleared the last of the trees, then rising enough to land on the elevated green to about 10 feet below the hole. He two-putted for par to defeat Louis Oosthuizen and thus kept intact a footnote in Augusta history.
There have been four playoffs that ended on the 10th hole. The winner only had to make par.
“I would say it probably has more of an ‘Uh-oh’ connotation rather than an opportunistic one,” Jim Furyk said of the par 4 that measures 495 yards. “There’s been some wrecks there, but it’s understandable. It’s a hard, hard golf hole.”
Statistically, it’s the hardest on the course.
Since the Masters began in 1934 – the 10th actually was the opening hole in the inaugural year of the tournament – it has yielded an average score of 4.32. There have been eight eagles, the most recent Robert Allenby in 2008. One of the most famous putts took place on the 10th green in the final round of 1984 when Ben Crenshaw holed a 60-foot birdie putt with about 20 feet of break on his way to winning the Masters.
Highlights, however, are rare, especially in a playoff. The 10th hole is known more for heartache than celebration.
Dan Pohl missed a 6-foot par putt on No. 10 in 1982, allowing Craig Stadler to win the Masters with a par. Len Mattiace was in a playoff with Mike Weir in 2003 when he pulled his approach down the steep bank to the left of the green. He made double bogey, and Weir only had to three-putt for bogey to become the first Canadian champion. Kenny Perry went left of the green and made bogey in 2009 to lose to Angel Cabrera.
And perhaps the most infamous moment happened in 1989, when Scott Hoch had a 3½-foot putt for par to win the Masters. He missed, giving Nick Faldo a second chance, and Faldo beat him on the next hole.
“There’s way more stumbling on No. 10 than there is advancing,” Stewart Cink said. “It’s a hole where you’re forced to play somewhat defensively. But that’s the character of the golf course. It entices you to play defensively, but it awards aggressive play.”
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One of the most famous sayings about the Masters is that it doesn’t really start until the back nine on Sunday. If that’s the case, it begins with a brute.
The 10th hole does not play nearly as long as the yardage suggests because of the severe drop in elevation off the tee. Most players opt for a fairway metal off the tee, and a tight draw will catch the slope.
“Hit a great tee shot and you feel good about the rest of the hole,” Padraig Harrington said. “Hit a bad tee shot, you know you’re in trouble. It’s more the psychology going into the second shot. If you hit a good tee shot, it shortens the hole, you’re in the flat area, you feel good.”
Rory McIlroy knows what it’s like to hit a bad tee shot.
He had a four-shot lead going into the final round in 2011 when he hit driver off the 10th tee and, trying to hit a draw, snap-hooked it so far left he wound up behind the cabins. McIlroy struggled to get the ball back in play, and his triple bogey was the start of a shocking meltdown. He shot 80 that day.
“I’ve seen all of that hole,” McIlroy said. “I’ve seen places on that hole that no one has seen. The proper way to play it is a 5-wood or a 3-wood, a low draw to get it running down the hill, and then a 6-iron or 7-iron into the green. All you’re trying to do is leave it below the pin. It’s such a fast green. It’s one of the hardest holes.”
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Even from the fairway, it’s no picnic — especially in soft conditions. As difficult as it already plays, Cink said no other fairway is more likely to leave mud on the ball.
“They mow that fairway against the grain, and all the water collects in the valley where we drive it,” Cink said. “This is a complaint of how far we all hit it. But we all carry it to the bottom, and the ball lands where the water collects. You get so many mud balls. That shot is so tough when you have mud and you don’t know where to aim.”
Perry had mud on his ball when he missed the green to the left in the 2009 playoff and made bogey. Tiger Woods had a big splotch of mud on his ball in the third round of 2005. Just his luck, though — play was stopped because of darkness. Woods was able to resume Sunday morning with a clean golf ball and made birdie, one of his record-tying seven straight birdies.
“The second shot is difficult, especially if you don’t get it down to the bottom of the hill,” Furyk said. “Now you’ve lost your angle and your distance.”
Or maybe the smart play is to just pipe it into the woods. It worked for Watson.
That shot has been replayed so many times — and will be at the Masters whenever Watson is part of the conversation — that Harrington figures players will wander into the trees during the practice rounds to see the shot, and maybe even give it a try. That’s what they do with the Larry Mize chip from right of the 11th green, with Woods’ chip from behind the 16th green, or with the Crenshaw putt on the 10th.
“The first thing you do going down 10 is head into the trees and have a look for yourself,” Harrington said. “I’ve seen it on TV. I want to see it for real. I think it will be easier to cut it than to draw it. I’ll have to see.”
As for Watson? He has no intentions of going back there. Not in the practice round, and certainly not in the tournament.
“That might be my only legacy of winning the Masters, so I want that shot to live, and I want it to grow,” Watson said. “And hopefully 20 years from now, it’s even tougher and there were bigger trees and it was a tougher situation.”
“So I don’t have any reason to go over there,” he said. “Hopefully, I hit the fairway from now on so I don’t need to practice that shot anymore.”