Fergus Bisset looks at the impact of the differing pin positions at Augusta National - and how the pros attack them
HOLE 18 – HOLLY
2014 Toughest Day: Round 1 – Avg. score 4.39, Rank 3rd (pin front right)
2014 Easiest Day: Round 2 – Avg. score 4.08, Rank 12th (pin back centre)
The final hole is most straightforward when the pin is at the front of the green as the ball will drift back towards it if landing slightly long, think of Sandy Lyle’s bunker shot in 1988. Conversely, when the pin is towards the back of the green the challenge is severe and an approach has to be extremely precise to avoid falling away from the cup either short, left or long. When the pin is towards the back of this green, three putts are common. Tom Watson three-putted for a double bogey six here in 1991 to lose out by two to Ian Woosnam.
FLAG HUNTERS – The players with the accuracy and/or courage to go straight at Augusta’s most precarious pins
Rory McIlroy – He’s now solidified his position as the World’s Number 1 player and he’s one of the very best ball-strikers in the game. McIlroy has proved in the past he’s not afraid of playing aggressively at Augusta and, with his length off the tee, he can fire into the more inaccessible pins with less club than most. He currently leads the European Tour for Greens found in Regulation, confirming his proficiency with an iron in his hand. Look for him to attack when the opportunity arises.
Phil Mickelson – Phil is a little less predictable than McIlroy in terms of accuracy, but there’s no doubting his commitment to the cause. He’s one of the most aggressive players in the world and he’ll take on any shot and fire at any flag; Think of his miraculous second from the pine straw in 2010. Mickelson also trusts his short game implicitly so has no fear of the next shot should his approach miss its target.
Lee Westwood – Over the years, Westwood has proven his ability to fire iron shots straight at the stick, time and time again. He has a good record at Augusta over the last five seasons – his worst finish in that time being a tie for 11th place. One of the key reasons for that success has been his precision with approach play. He’ll play more strategically than, say, Mickelson and will choose which battles to fight. But look for him to be aggressive and stick a few in to tap-in distance.
Hideki Matsuyama – The Japanese player is one of the most accurate iron players in world golf right now. In 2014 he led the PGA Tour in proximity of approaches between 150 and 175 yards – those are the shots that the players have to get spot-on at Augusta to find the trickiest pin spots, so Matsuyama should have the perfect game for this course.