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Exploding the myths of the US Masters

"by Rob Hodgetts."


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.


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.