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Spring is in the air as the world’s best golfers head to Augusta National Golf Club ahead of the 86th running of the Masters Tournament.
Augusta National could be mistaken as a top-tier arboretum but the golf course isn’t half bad, either.
The club is extremely exclusive and so is the field. At press time, there are just 91 golfers on the starter’s sheet. It’s only the best of the best that get a chance to slip on the green jacket.
The 36-hole cut rules are a bit different than the week-to-week TOUR stop. At the Masters, only the Low 50 and Ties will play the weekend. As we’ve seen in recent years, there is no longer a within-10-shots-of-the-leader rule. The most we’ve ever seen sneak through the cutline at the Masters was 65 golfers, and that happened at the 2019 edition.
Let’s hop right in and talk about the iconic venue.
Augusta National Golf Club is the host and it needs no introduction. The course is nearly 100-years old now but it continues to evolve to keep up with the current state of the game.
Looking at the scorecard for the 2022 Masters we see a par 72 that stretches out to 7,510 yards. That is a 35-yard increase over last year. So what changed?
The par-4 11th had 15 yards added with trees also being removed from the right side.
The par-5 15th had 20 yards added and the fairways recontoured. That accounts for the 35 additional yards on the card but there were also 13 yards added to the back of the par-4 18th tee box although the yardage remains the same for scorecard’s sake.
How quickly have they added length to the course? The 2022 Masters is playing 585 yards longer than the 1998 setup.
Off the tee, this is a course where it’s very advantageous to have the ability to “hit bombs.” Big hitters have feasted at Augusta National, over the years. One part of that equation is the rough, also known as the second cut, which is light and very manageable. You only get into real trouble if you are spraying it all over the place and need to get lucky with tree trouble.
Whether you are attacking from the fairways or second cut, approach play remains a crucial ingredient in the recipe for success. The proper landing targets are very small due to heavy undulations on the greens. Add in speedy greens and finely mown runoff areas and a “small ” miss can sometimes end 30 or 40 yards from the hole.
That brings in around-the-green skills. Even the best iron players are going to miss their fair share of greens at ANGC. The runoff areas and speedy greens can make poor chippers looks very silly. Notice a trend yet? Every aspect of your game needs to be firing in order to contend at Augusta National. It’s a true all-around test.
Last but not least, having some comfort on the unique and speedy green complexes is a big plus. They don’t publish a target stimp reading, but it’s safe to say they ramp them up to 13+ feet on the stimp. They are annually some of the fastest greens the pros see all year.
For grass types, golfers will see overseeded bermuda (ryegrass) from tee-to-green with bentgrass putting surfaces.
In the end, this all adds up to a tough, but fair scoring environment. You need to take advantage of the par 5s as the field on average finds 0.41 eagles per 72 holes which is around 15th-most plentiful across regular TOUR stops. On the flip side, the field finds bogey-or-worse on about 23 percent of holes played. That is the toughest among regular venues just ahead of Torrey Pines South, PGA National, Quail Hollow Club, and Muirfield Village.
Looking at target winning scores, five of the last 10 winners have landed in the 8-to-10 under range while four have played easier and one played tougher (Danny Willett, -5).
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Quotes on the Course
Justin Thomas: “I work on my lag putting a decent bit because there’s going to be times maybe you can’t get close to a pin or you get out of position, you have to hit it to the fat of the green and you have 40, 50, 60-footers where you need to lag it up there and try to 2-putt.”
Patrick Reed: “It truly is a course knowledge golf course. You need to know where to put the ball on certain pins and if you miss you need to miss it in certain spots because there’s some areas around here that it’s literally impossible, unless you make a 15, 18-footer. “
Bubba Watson: “The lies in the fairway, you got all kind of different angles and slopes and things, so the lies above your feet, below your feet, uphill, downhill, rumor is they cut the grass towards us, so it’s into the grain when you hit, so the quality of iron shots, you got to be pinpoint or you’re going to look pretty bad on the iron shots because it’s hard to get a crisp hit on it.”
Francesco Molinari: “it’s a second-shot golf course. Tee shots are important, but not key, probably. Obviously you can play from the rough. I think off the tee, it’s important to miss on the good side. Every hole there’s a side where most of the time you have a shot to the green, even if you are out of position.”
Jordan Spieth: “I think mid-range and even long-range putting and touch putting is more important here than it is just about anywhere else.”
Jason Day: “I know it’s very much a second-shot golf course. I’ve played with countless older generation players and younger generation players, and you can definitely tell that the more you play here, the better your course management gets around this golf course.”
A few mentions of this being a second-shot course while others talk about the importance of putting and course knowledge.
Using historical data from this week’s venue, we can look for other courses across the PGA TOUR schedule with crossover success (or failure). Here are the courses that pop up frequently:
Quail Hollow Club
We’re looking at risk-reward courses with high bogey rates.
Thursday: Mostly Sunny with a high of 77 degrees. Winds at 8 to 15 MPH with gusts around 20 MPH.
Friday: Partly Sunny with a high of 67 degrees. Winds around 15 MPH with gusts around 25 MPH.
It’s still early in the week but it looks like golfers will have to deal with a steady stream of wind this week before a potential dead-calm Sunday.
Golfers to Watch
We saw last week that he already had his eye on Augusta National and maybe overlooked TPC San Antonio, leading to a missed cut. With the career grand slam so close, it’s easy to see why he was looking ahead. I’m not too concerned about the missed cut at the Valero. McIlroy has top 10s in six of his last eight appearances at the Masters.
He’s the defending champ but arriving with some serious injury concerns. He was a pre-tourney WD ahead of THE PLAYERS and lasted just 27 holes last week at the Valero.
He missed the cut last year the Masters when playing at less than 100% health. This time around, he enters with boom-or-bust form (three top 10s and two missed cuts in his last five stroke-play starts).
Coming off the worst putting week of his career, will Augusta National be the perfect cure? “I’ve really fared well on the greens. Whether I’ve come in putting well or even in tough putting years, the ball seems to find the hole here, when I get on the putting surface. I think a lot of that has to do with speed control. I think mid-range and even long-range putting and touch putting is more important here than it is just about anywhere else. I would say that over anything else has been the biggest strength over the years.”
This will be his first start since losing the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. Not that he needs any more fuel, but maybe that will light a fire to kick his game back into gear. The only issue lately is the short game. He’s lost strokes around the green in six straight starts and lost strokes putting in four straight.
The floodgates have certainly opened for Scheffler who has won three of his last six starts. His history at the Masters includes a pair of top 20s in two tries.
While Scheffler has ascended to World No. 1 and quickly earned superstar status, Smith has become a budding star himself. He has won two of his last four events played and has gained 2.02 strokes per round over the last six months, ranking first in the entire field this week. The Aussie has a trio of top 10s in five previous Masters appearances.
Ranking the Field
1. Justin Thomas
2. Cameron Smith
3. Jon Rahm
4. Rory McIlroy
5. Scottie Scheffler
6. Viktor Hovland
7. Patrick Cantlay
8. Xander Schauffele
9. Collin Morikawa
10. Dustin Johnson
11. Jordan Spieth
12. Will Zalatoris
13. Shane Lowry
14. Russell Henley
15. Louis Oosthuizen
16. Daniel Berger
17. Matt Fitzpatrick
18. Adam Scott
19. Brooks Koepka
20. Sam Burns