LITTLE MONSTER

April 17, 2011

The par-3 12th may be the shortest hole at Augusta National, but ever since the first Masters, it has proved to be the biggest headache

Jack Nicklaus calls Golden Bell, the par-3 12th hole at Augusta National, "the hardest hole in tournament golf," and the little devil—only 155 yards—took its toll again last week.

Despite relatively benign conditions—not too much wind, surprisingly soft turf—the 12th ranked as the third-toughest hole on the course, with a stroke average of 3.23. Only the brutish par-4 11th, with a 4.33 average, and the 1st (4.24) were more difficult. Barely half (52%) of the world's finest players hit the green in regulation, and there were more double bogeys (17) and dreaded "others" (6) made on 12 than on any other hole. Since the Masters was first played, only three holes in one have come at the 12th, the last by Curtis Strange in 1988. By comparison, 13 aces have been made at the longer (170 yards) 16th hole.

What makes the 12th so tough? First, at 26 yards deep, the hourglass-shaped green is the second smallest at Augusta (after the 15th, which is 24 yards) and angled slightly away from the tee. Second, the green is guarded front and back by deep bunkers. Third, Rae's Creek runs below the steep front of the green complex. And finally, because the hole is located in the lowest spot on the property and backed by tall trees, even a slight breeze can turn into an unpredictable swirl. "There's no bailout," says veteran pro David Toms. "Just suck it up and hit a shot."

There was a long list of victims last week. Luke Donald hit into Rae's Creek and made a rally-killing double bogey on Sunday, while contenders Angel Cabrera, K.J. Choi and Tiger Woods all bogeyed the hole during the final round. For the first two days, bogeys or worse outnumbered birdies by a 64--28 margin. One of the glam groups of the opening rounds, young and powerful Masters rookies Jhonattan Vegas (26) and Gary Woodland (26), and second-year participant Alvaro Quiros (27), were laid low by Golden Bell on Friday. The threesome needed a combined 14 strokes to finish the hole—and it could've been worse.

Hitting first, Woodland dumped his eight-iron shot into Rae's Creek. "Quiros saw me and probably gave his eight-iron a little more and he went in the back bunker," Woodland said. "Then Vegas pulled his long and left. The wind was really swirling."

So the adventure began. Quiros left his second shot in the sand, hit his third onto the green and two-putted. Double bogey. Vegas chipped on but also needed two putts. Bogey. Woodland dropped in the fairway and played his third shot into the back bunker. His fourth barely escaped the trap and settled into the first cut. He was looking at a sure "other" but holed a lob wedge shot for a double.

It was unusually quiet on the 13th tee. "Nobody said a word," Quiros said. "You could see Gary Woodland's face, and my face, too. It was not the proper time to make a joke."

Woodland would finish 24th, and Quiros 27th. Vegas missed the cut by three shots.

Golden Bell was also to blame for U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell's demise. During the second round McDowell's seven-iron shot flew the green left of the back bunker and disappeared into the pine straw on the hillside. That led to an odd sight—McDowell, playing partners Robert Allenby and Tiger Woods and their caddies searching for the ball until the five-minute time limit expired. You don't see Tiger looking for a lost ball very often. McDowell had to make the walk of shame back to the tee and try again. He ended up with a triple bogey and missed the cut by two. "I felt as if I hit a decent shot in there," McDowell said. "It plugged in the pine straw and was gone forever. Twelve was the killer blow for me."

Same for Sean O'Hair. He flared a weak eight-iron that splashed into Rae's Creek, pitched into the back bunker from the drop area and also made triple. He shot a 40 on the back and missed the cut by one.

The 12th also brought Matt Kuchar to his knees. O.K., technically it was Kuchar's caddie, Lance Bennett, who was on his hands and knees on the bank of Rae's Creek as he tried to identify Kuchar's embedded ball. The wayward shot was disastrous enough for Kuchar, who dropped in the fairway and made a double. The two lost strokes turned out to be the difference between a 20th and a 27th-place finish.

The news wasn't all bad at 12. Bubba Watson played his way into the top 10 through three rounds despite back-to-back doubles there. He finally birdied the hole in the third round. "You know what? I made good swings there every day," Watson said, "but for some reason I get jacked up on that tee and fly the green. I clubbed down and swung easier [on Saturday]." That sounds so simple, but nothing is at the Little Monster.

Day by day: The charts show how the 12th played over four rounds last week and how the hole played, on average, in each round over the past 50 years. The lines indicate how many yards the cup (in red) was from the front and the side of the green. The big surprise was that the 12th played relatively easily on Sunday, when the hole was cut in its most dangerous spot—on the far right side of the green, as it always is for the final round. That pin brings Rae's Creek into play, so most golfers play to the middle of the green. Twelve did claim a few victims on Sunday. Luke Donald says his double bogey there (he hit his tee shot into the water) cost him the tournament, and contenders Angel Cabrera, K.J. Choi and Tiger Woods all made bogeys.

10 YDS

15 YDS

1st

Average 3.37

Rank 2nd

Birdies 13

Pars 52

Bogeys 22

Doubles 8

Others 4

50-Year Average 3.28

8 YDS

19 YDS

2nd

Average 3.25

Rank 2nd

Birdies 15

Pars 54

Bogeys 22

Doubles 6

Others 2

50-Year Average 3.30

4 YDS

8 YDS

3rd

Average 3.00

Rank 13th

Birdies 8

Pars 33

Bogeys 8

Doubles 0

Others 0

50-Year Average 3.26

20 YDS

4 YDS

4th

Average 3.10

Rank 7th

Birdies 8

Pars 31

Bogeys 7

Doubles 3

Others 0

50-Year Average 3.31

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PHOTOFRED VUICHWIND TUNNEL The 12th sits on the lowest point of the course and is susceptible to unpredictable swirling winds. FOUR PHOTOSKAREN HA PHOTOJOHN G. MABANGLO/EPALOST CAUSE Kuchar (front right) and friends had trouble finding his ball, which plugged in the bank of Rae's Creek.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)