Ben Crenshaw’s five putts that will win the Masters

April 7, 2015

Ben Crenshaw played his 44th and final Masters in 2015. Few have matched Gentle Ben’s mastery of Augusta’s not-so-gentle greens. He buried a 60-footer en route to his 1984 win. And when he slipped into his second green jacket, in 1995, he hadn’t recorded a single three-putt. As he knows, all putts count equally at Augusta — but some are more equal than others. Here, Crenshaw reveals the five pivotal putts that will make, or break, an aspiring Masters champion.

HOLE 5 (“Magnolia” / Par 4)

“The green has the same severe front face and angle to the fairway as the Road Hole at St. Andrews,” Crenshaw says. “Rounded, convex undulations throw the ball right and left, making it one of Augusta’s most unrelenting putting surfaces. If the pin is placed on the crest of the green or to the back-left, putts from the lower front part of the green are just so difficult. Most everybody will drop a shot here at some point, so your goal is to two-putt.

“You have to get it up over the crest, even if you’re eight or 10 feet by. If you don’t, the ball can trickle back to your feet. The safest miss is under the hole, so missing your first putt left of the hole is better. There are some god-awful slopes on this green that can make you look silly. The mentality is all about saving a stroke and avoiding bogey—or worse.”

Signature Sunday Birdie Putt: Tom Watson, 1977, 10 feet, to take a two-stroke lead over Jack Nicklaus

HOLE 8 (“Yellow Jasmine” / Par 5)

“If you’re the leader or close to the lead,” Crenshaw says, “you have to make a birdie 4 here to keep pace. That adds pressure. The toughest hole location lies just beyond the spine in the middle of the green, but on Sunday, the hole is usually cut back-left, an easier spot.

“The green is slippery in places, but it is receptive to a proper pitch, one that follows the contours and leaves you with an uphill, left-to-right putt. It’s not a hard putt, except for the pressure of knowing you need to make it just to stay with the field.”

Signature Sunday Birdie Putt: Nick Faldo, 1996, 20 feet, cutting Greg Norman’s lead to three shots

HOLE 10 (“Camellia” / Par 4)

“With the hole cut back-left on Sunday, this is one of the hardest approach putts I’ve faced. The green is almost convex—a very slight dome—where the middle portion slopes to the front, then the rear portion falls away to the back. Shadows increase the difficulty of finding the proper pace. Hole No. 10 gave me perhaps my most exciting moment in golf in 1984’s final round, when I holed that 60-footer with nine feet of break [for birdie]. I would have been happy to get it within five feet!

“Even from 30 feet below the hole, it’s just so difficult to find the correct combination of speed and line. It’s hard to imagine there can be so much break. The slope is right to left and up the hill, making the best leave on the lower side, so that you have a par putt back up the hill. Hit your approach putt too short or too long and you’ll have a devil of a time making 4.”

Signature Sunday Birdie Putt: Crenshaw, 1984, 60 feet (his third straight birdie) to extend a lead he’d never relinquish

HOLE 13 (“Azalea” / Par 5)

“This hole is vulnerable to birdies and eagles, so you feel you have to make 4 just to keep pace. On Sunday, the hole is typically set up on the right side, so most approach shots into the green wind up on the left side, to avoid the creek. This leaves a difficult putt—not quite a rainbow, but a good yard of left-to-right break on shorter putts. If the weather is good, and the course is firm and dry, the ball gets traveling. You might see 20 feet of break on a long-distance putt, especially to the back-right location.”

“It’s critical that you balance the need to be aggressive with the reality of how tricky this putt can be. You want the proper line and speed, but give it too much and you could putt it well past the hole, even into the creek. This happens more than anyone will admit. Yes, a 3 is great, but just make sure you get your 4.”

Signature Sunday Birdie Putt: José María Olazábal, 1999, 20 feet, after playing partner Greg Norman made a 25-footer for eagle

HOLE 16 (“Redbud” / Par 3)

“With that Sunday pin, usually way back left, this hole has witnessed many dramatic moments—so many spectacular 2s. You have to hit the proper tee shot, either right at the flag or else to the right of it and let the ball funnel down the contour to the left, below the hole. That’s what you want here on Sunday: a makeable putt up the slope.

“If you leave your tee shot too far right, your first putt is nearly impossible—even if you’re pin-high to the right, you can’t play enough break to stop it near the hole. But if you leave yourself a birdie putt from inside 20 feet and below the hole, you can give it a good run. That below-the-hole putt looks straight, but it breaks left—and a lot of guys leave it short, because it’s into the grain. You have to find a way to make this one.”

Signature Sunday Birdie Putt: Phil Mickelson, 2004, 15 feet, tying Ernie Els for the lead at 8-under