Five key shots at Augusta National

Words by
Josh Coles. Artwork by Matt Miller
Five key shots at Augusta National

Jack Nicklaus, who knows a thing or two about the Masters, identifies five key shots on the second nine at Augusta National. Over the years, the closing stretch of holes has produced more than its fair share of drama. Many of these pivotal moments have come with these five key shots: the 2nd shot on 11, the tee shot on 12, the drive on 13, the 2nd shot on 13 and the 2nd shot on 15.

Using Clippd’s Shot Quality algorithm we have looked at 10 historic examples of these five shots. We’ve factored in layers of context into our calculations for each shot (course conditions, weather, start distance and lie, end distance and lie and course difficulty), to show exactly how good – or one case, not so good – these shots were. 

As a reminder, a Shot Quality score of 100 is the standard expected from a current male tour professional, while 200 is “statistical perfection”, such as a hole in one or holing out from long distance. You can learn more about Clippd's Shot Quality and Player Quality here.

The results make for some interesting reading. Just how good is finding the green at 12 (when all around you, everyone is putting it in the water)? And how much benefit is there from cutting the corner on 13? Let’s find out…

2nd Shot, 11th Hole, White Dogwood

Standing on the tee at -11, two back of leader Francesco Molinari, Tiger leaned on his tee shot ‘trying to flight it a little’. The ball leaked right and came to rest underneath a tree. With Molinari safely finding the green, Tiger knew he had to do something special. The camera angle showed the tree line formed an alley towards the green but the direct line was blocked by overhanging branches. This meant going for the green would require playing a draw back towards the pond on the left.

What followed was a sign of things to come. Tiger drew on all his skills to hit a slinging 7 iron that landed safely on the green before stopping 19 feet away. It was a masterful escape that started his ‘return to glory’.

The final round of the 1979 Masters started with American Ed Sneed leading the field by five shots. Among the chasing pack, six behind, was Masters debutant Fuzzy Zoeller. Fresh off his maiden PGA Tour victory a couple of months earlier and a third round 69, Frank Urban Zoeller Jr was feeling good going into the last day. 

Towards the end of his round, Zoeller was trying to finish as high as he could. Sneed held a three-shot lead standing on the 16th tee but clumsy bogeys on all three remaining holes put him in a playoff with Tom Watson and Zoeller. After halving on the 10th, the first playoff hole, all three found the fairway on 11. Sneed’s approach flew long into the back bunker while Watson hit an excellent shot into 18 feet. Zoeller stepped up and sent his 8-iron shot arrowing to six feet from the pin. With his opponents down in four, the 27-year-old from Indiana rolled his ball into the hole for a winning birdie and threw his putter into the air in delight. It was an unlikely win set up by a truly great iron shot. 

Tee Shot, 12th Hole, Golden Bell

Of the six players playing in the final two groups on the final day of the 2019 Masters, four took aim at the right-hand, Sunday pin on 12. And all four of them found the water. Tiger had seen Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter end up short and wet in the group in front. “When I was up there on the tee box and it was about my turn to go, I could feel that wind puff up a little bit,” he said.

With playing partner Francesco Molinari’s ball also at the bottom of Rae’s Creek, Tiger drew on all his experience and golf intelligence to play the right shot for the moment: “Just be committed,” he told himself. “Hit it over that tongue in that bunker.” Tiger’s soaring 9-iron set off on the safe line and came down with a thud, exactly where he had been aiming. He two-putted for par from distance and was suddenly the joint leader. Tiger’s sensible, unerring tee shot on 12 scored 106 for Shot Quality but was worth so much more in the context of that tumultuous final day.

“A ball has about as much chance of stopping on that bank as a marble does of stopping halfway down a drainpipe.” That’s what Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly wrote about the bank in front of hole 12. 

Fred Couples was the number one player in the world and leading the Masters as he addressed his ball on the 12th tee on Masters Sunday in 1992. All he had to do was aim for the middle of the green, two putt and move onto the 13th. He said afterwards that he didn’t want to go for the pin, which was on the right hand side in it’s typical Sunday location, “but there’s this thing in my brain that just shoved the ball over there”. On impact, his ball looked destined for Rae’s Creek, landing short and bouncing back towards the water. But for the first time anyone could ever recall, his ball grabbed and stopped on the bank. Boom Boom then played a brilliant chip before holing the putt for what turned out to be a vital par. 

Tee Shot, 13th Hole, Azalea

Sunday of the 2014 Masters was all about whether the fresh-faced Augusta debutant Jordan Spieth could triumph over the 2012 champion Bubba Watson. Spieth came out hot, birdieing four of his first seven holes. Bubba wasn’t about to roll over though, and responded with birdies of his own. With a two-shot lead on the 13th tee, Bubba knew it was time to utilise his length and shot-shaping prowess. However, the line he took surprised everyone. “I can tell it hit some trees, because I mean, that's not the line I really wanted to go on,” he confirmed post-round.

After what seemed an eternity, the ball landed safely and the patrons roared. Perhaps a little perturbed, Spieth then hit his drive into the pine straw on the right and could only make par. Watson would go on to make birdie and open up a three-shot lead.

Although it wasn’t shown on the final day telecast, the commentators described Jack Nicklaus’ 3 wood tee shot on 13 as “absolutely the perfect drive for the pin position”. In truth, it was a bit too close for comfort for Jackie Nicklaus, who was on his father’s bag. “Shots like that are a little too much for a 24-year-old heart, Dad," Jackie said after Nicklaus drew his 3 wood around the corner, skirting a perilous line with the azalea filled woods and the creek running down the left-hand side. The ball came to rest in one of the few flat pieces of terrain on the hole.

Nicklaus had 210 yards left to the flag over Rae's Creek. After birdies at 9, 10, 11, he needed an immediate bounce back from a bogey at 12. “Even though I’m kicking myself in the rear end, I knew that I had to turn my thought process around,” he said. His 3 iron was perfect, checking up at 40 feet away in the middle of the green. Nicklaus two-putted for birdie and lit the blue touch paper.

2nd Shot, 13th Hole, Azalea

Phil Mickleson started the final round of the 2010 Masters one shot behind Lee Westwood. By the time they came to the 13th tee, Phil was the tournament leader and doing his best to hold off a second nine charge from Anthony Kim. His drive on 13 found the pine straw right and it looked like he’d have no choice but to lay up. True to his nickname, Phil decided to thrill. After discussing with his caddy, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay, he had a 6 iron in his hand with a green jacket on the line. Phil took an almighty swing and sent the ball soaring into the sky.

An age later, it landed right next to the pin producing cheers heard right around the course. “The greatest shot of his life” exclaimed Nick Faldo in commentary as Mickleson fist pumped on the fairway.

Faldo started the day six behind runaway leader Greg Norman but had made up eight shots on the Australian by the time they reached the 13th tee. Faldo was at -9 and Norman was at -7 as Faldo nailed his drive down the fairway and Norman pushed his onto the pine straw right. Norman debated with his caddie Tony Navarro whether to go for the pin, which was tucked in the front right Sunday position, with a 2 iron. With 232 yards to go, Navarro talked him out of it.

Faldo had 228 to the flag. He paced around, thought about it and after consultations with Fanny Sunessen, pulled out his MacGregor 5 wood, the club that he reliably hit 215 yards and had put in the bag for just this shot. Twice Faldo addressed the ball and twice he walked away, drawing groans from the patrons. The commentary team couldn’t work out whether he was laying up or going for the green until Faldo finally rifled a 2 iron down the slot to the left side of the green. It landed softly, bounced forward and curled round to 33 feet. Faldo has said it was the best shot of his career.

2nd Shot, 15th Hole, Firethorn

Jack Nicklaus was four back of a charging Seve Ballesteros, and two behind Tom Kite as he surveyed the second shot at 15 on the final, sunlit day of the 1986 Masters. The 46-year-old was six years on from his last major win and had been all but written off, but he had found something in his game. Knowing he had to make a decisive move, he unleashed a 298-yard drive to the perfect spot in the fairway and now needed to pull off the sort of clutch shot that had propelled him to 17 previous major championships. He turned to his son Jackie, who was wearing the white Augusta overalls, and asked, “How far do you think a three would go here?" He meant an eagle not the club.

Jack’s 4 iron was perfect, landing close to the hole. So too was the putt from 12 feet. Minutes later, the roars got even louder when the Golden Bear came within inches of an ace on the 16th. The rest is history.

In 1935, Gene Sarazen trailed Craig Wood by three shots as he stood in the fairway of the 15th hole contemplating the green in the final round of the second ever Augusta National Invitation Tournament. His playing partner that afternoon was Walter Hagen. Augusta National GC and tournament founder Bobby Jones was in the gallery and the young Byron Nelson was in close proximity playing an adjacent hole. It was surely kizmet that these founding fathers of the modern game were gathered to witness ‘the shot heard around the world’.

Sarazen’s caddie wanted him to hit 3 wood, but he selected the 4 wood and sent his ball sailing towards the green. It landed over the water, just short of the putting surface, and bounced twice before rolling up the green. The journalist O.B. Keeler, who witnessed the shot, described a ‘ripple of sound’ that grew before ‘sweeping into a crescendo – and then the tornado broke,” as the ball toppled into the hole. Sarazen went on to catch Wood and secure his first win at Augusta in a 36-hole playoff the next day, all thanks to the shot that put the Masters on the map.

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