Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
The excitement is building and we’re well into Masters week. The players have their first practice round(s) in the bank and they are more learning about the course they face this week. After looking at the front nine yesterday it’s time to look at the inward half and see what the course has waiting for the players. The back nine at Augusta National overshadows the front nine. Not only does this half feature Amen Corner and many cameos from Rae’s Creek, but this is where the drama lies.
They say that the Masters Tournament doesn’t really start until the back nine on Sunday. Well, with that in mind, here are the holes where it will all take place.
This is one of the hardest holes on the course. The tee shot requires lots of right to left draw spin in order to give your drive that extra distance. Leaving it out to the right will result in a long approach shot to this already sizeable par four. Your downhill approach shot to the green will be with a mid to long iron and the dance floor falls away on the left to leave a very tricky up and down. On the final day the hole tends to be cut on the left half. This will lure the chasing pack into that area, however, a tough up and down awaits if you short-side yourself.
One of the greatest/most miraculous shots played in the modern Masters era was by Bubba Watson, the two-time champion, here at 10. Back in 2012 he and Louis Oosthuizen were in a play-off on this hole. After Bubba found the trees from the tee it seemed like Louis was all-set for victory. Cue a large helping of Bubba magic as he hit this physics defying shot that went at almost right angles from the trees onto the green. One of the best recovery shots in golf and one that even Seve would have doffed his cap to.
Welcome to the hardest hole at Augusta National and the infamous ‘Amen Corner’. This is where Augusta National really starts to show her teeth, hence the name. This long dogleg par 4 requires a long tee shot and the wind will have a huge impact on this hole. The second shot is when things get tense here. A pond guards the green on the left whilst a bunker halfway up the green on the right will catch shots that are too cautious. A wonderful hole and a great way to start arguably the most iconic grouping of holes in the world.
Poor Greg Norman, one of the game’s best, but The Great White Shark never got his hands on a green jacket. He got close a couple of times but in 1987 Larry Mize, a relatively unknown local kid, pitched in here to seal a play-off victory against the Aussie. A gutsy pitch that deserved to be holed as he could easily have played a more conservative shot.
This is the signature hole on the course and is the first appearance of Rae’s Creek. It’s the shortest hole on offer but it’s no rest. This tricky par 3 has real potential as a card-wrecker, ask Jordan Spieth. The wind plays a huge role in the difficulty of this tee shot and three bunkers, one at the front at two at the back, are on hand to catch any slightly wayward shots. This green slopes from back to front and you want to be on the low-side of this flag. As the player’s walk to the green via Ben Hogan bridge they talk of the eerie quiet due to the galleries not being around this green. A three here is always a good score.
In 1992 Fred Couples’ prayers at Amen Corner paid off as his ball some how clung on to the bank and avoided a dip in Rae’s Creek. Couples hailed it as “the biggest break probably of my life”. He chipped the ball up to a foot and holed the putt for par before going on to win by two, Amen indeed Boom Boom.
In the final instalment of Amen corner comes the easiest of the three, not that it’s easy though. This hole is named after the vibrant pink flowers that are dotted around this part of the course. The TaylorMade bag for the Masters this year features Azaleas in the lining of the main pocket too. The players tee off over Rae’s Creek then walk over Byron Nelson Bridge and slightly uphill to the tight doglegged fairway.
A tributary to Rae’s Creek runs almost the entire length of the hole and is a hazard on the left. A draw can really open up the second shot and give an eagle chance. The same creek then crosses the hole in front of the green and so means a precise and high approach shot is best. The severe slope on this green means you want to be in the right portion, you’ll see some classic Augusta National rollercoaster putts here!
Although Bubba’s aforementioned tee shot was impressive, it pales in comparison to the astounding and green jacket-sealing recovery shot that Phil Mickelson played here on his way to his third victory in 2010. From the pine straw he got the crowd going when he pulled out the long iron and threaded the needle to put the ball within a few feet. On the commentary Nick Faldo proclaims “Greatest shot of his life, must be!”
This seems like a nice gentle right to left dogleg. There are no bunkers and this hole could lull you into a false sense of security. Don’t be fooled though. The biggest defence on this hole is slope, be it on the fairway or on the green. The fairway slopes away from the dogleg so if you leave it a wee bit right it could kick into trouble. You absolutely want the best lie possible for the exacting approach shot that’s required here. This is one of the most severe greens on the course and where you position your approach shot is essential. Large undulations will provide some entertaining putts for the patrons.
It’s only taken 14 holes but here is the first showing from Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, due to ongoing injury the Masters will be a Tiger-free zone again this year, but in 1997 it wasn’t as he won his first Masters title. His birdie at 14 helped him on his way to a tournament record of 18 under-par, a score that was only equalled in 2015 by Jordan Spieth but has never been bettered.
This par 5, although on the shorter side, has a treacherous green complex. Unless the golfer has hit a huge tee shot it’s unlikely to be a two shot par 5. The large pond in front of the green will catch any weak approaches and with another pond hidden behind the green you can’t be too long either. If you decide to lay-up you will probably end up with a downhill lie to think about for your third. It was on this hole that Jordan Spieth became the first man ever to reach 19 under-par at the Masters. A great feat but Gene Sarazen has to take the best shot played here.
Dubbed ‘the shot that was heard around the world’ Gene Sarazen recorded the very first albatross at this great tournament and really helped launch the profile of the event. Yes, we know it’s hard to fathom, there was a time when the Masters wasn’t that big a deal! Sarazen’s 4-wood from 235 yards propelled him into a play-off where he went on to pick up his one and only green jacket.
Played almost entirely over water and then with a green guarded by bunkers, this is another treacherous par 3. The slope of the green brings balls down towards the hole when the flag is in its final day position. A short to mid-iron is required along with a perfect strike. We’ve witnessed many aces here, including Shane Lowrie last year, but there was a piece of real golf magic here in 2005.
Tiger is back with one of the greatest shots ever televised and a slice of pure Tiger-theatrics. In 2005 a poor tee shot put the man in red long and left with a really tricky chip. Seemingly aiming nowhere near the hole, Tiger landed his pitch high up the slope of the green and let gravity work. His ball ran down the green gathering pace and heading for the cup, the crowd got to their feet.
As the ball approached the flag it started to slow down, then appeared to stop. For a second the golfing world held its breath and the galleries willed the ball to drop. With the Nike swoosh on display, it’s thought that this was worth around $1M in primetime advertising. The ball fell into the hole and Tiger went fist-pump crazy! A truly incredible shot that resulted in a playoff with Chris DiMarco that Tiger went on to win.
The 17th has a tight fairway lined by tall trees and many players will opt for the more conservative 3 wood from the tee. This was the residence of the famous Eisenhower tree which got its name from the fact that the 34th President ordered it to be removed as he hit it so often. Unfortunately, in 2014 the tree had to be removed due to damage it sustained in a storm. The hole is uphill all the way to the green which has two large greenside bunkers flanking the mouth of the putting surface. This is another green with challenging undulations and the final day pin position is tough to get at.
It’s Jack’s final entry to the list and apt it is too. Again during his final Masters victory in 1986, Nicklaus was in a tie for the lead with Tom Kite and Seve Ballesteros as he came up the penultimate hole. Leaving himself an unenviable downhill double-breaking putt, Jack sank arguably the most famous putt in the tournament’s history. He finished 17 under and went on to win at the age of 46.
The final hole, it is here that boyhood dreams are made or dashed. Through the wonderful chute created by the trees from the tee to the uphill dogleg right, it’s a great hole. A good drive will result in a mid-iron to the green. A fairway bunker on the left is there for those who try too hard to avoid the trees on the right. The deep, narrow green is guarded by a bunker short left and a one that runs down the right of the putting surface.
In the 1988 Masters, Scotsman Sandy Lyle found said fairway bunker. It looked as though he’d be lucky to make the par required to reach a playoff. He took a seven iron and went for broke. A beautiful contact saw the ball sail through the air and onto the green. The ball appeared to stop on the bank before slowly gathering momentum and resting up around ten-feet from the hole. Ben Crenshaw, who was playing with Lyle at the time described it as “one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen over there”. Lyle sunk the putt for an astounding birdie and won the tournament by a shot over Mark Calcavecchia. Oh and the wee jig when he holed the putt really topped it off!
Have a great Masters week everyone!