It has been 10 years since Tiger Woods donned a green jacket on Sunday at the Masters. The anticipation for the four-time Masters champion to win No. 5 at Augusta National peaks each and every April, but this year is completely different. Tiger’s 2015 season has been plagued by what most have dubbed the “chip-yips.”
Of all the golf courses in all the world, Augusta National is the most unkind to a player working through short-game tremors, even the one who owns the 72-hole record. If Tiger’s game has not improved from earlier this year, he will face many scary shots at Augusta National, but without a doubt, these five will terrify him.
1. Tiger’s First Tee Shot
We all will be on the edge of our seats as Tiger lines up that first tee shot Thursday. Months of anticipation could be quickly drowned by an errant tee shot, followed by endless Internet echoes of “I told you so.” The truth is, Tiger has never been super-consistent off the first tee. His old coach, Hank Haney, was pretty blunt about it, saying, “I’ve never seen him hit a shot on the practice tee that resembles some of those bad shots off the first tee.”
The first hole at Augusta is 455 yards with a gigantic bunker guarding the right side and reachable trees on the left. From there, it’s a pitch to an elevated green on a hole that has never averaged under par by the field. If Tiger can’t grab the fairway off the first tee, his 2015 Masters will literally be an uphill climb from there onward.
2. The Approach on 10
Just before Amen Corner, it’s easy to start thinking about one of the greatest three-hole stretches in golf. Not so fast. No. 10 asks for plenty in making par. With the appropriate length, Tiger will reach the level area of the descending fairway, but if he doesn’t, his approach will sit on a slightly hanging lie, absolutely begging for a hooked shot into trouble.
A bad approach can spell out double bogey or worse for Tiger as any directional miss is going to leave him a delicate chip in a vital up-and-down area. Any short-game yips that remain will take devilish hold of his scorecard at this point. There’s a reason why this hole is included in the rotation of playoff holes. It’s very, very difficult.
3. The Pitch From Bailout Area on 11
Just because this hole is a par-4 doesn’t mean it’s a go-for-the-green guarantee. Ben Hogan used to say, “If you see me on this green, you know I missed it.” Tiger’s short game is in high concern, and the bailout area that players commonly default to might bring him into code red.
The area sits four feet lower than the green, which means that the ball needs to get in the air some. If Tiger’s short game is similar to the last time we saw it, don’t be surprised if he ducks the wedges and uses a fairway wood or mid-iron. This green will run down grain, too, in the scariest of directions: the water’s edge. Anything skulled similar to what we saw from Tiger at Torrey Pines is going to be swimming.
4. Putt From the Top of the Green on 13
Woods has played the 13th hole rather well throughout his career, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t given him some trouble, too. A decade ago in 2005, Woods reached the green in two, but proceed to cruise his eagle putt past the cup and into Rae’s Creek, turning a seemingly sure-fire birdie in to a discouraging bogey (even though he still won).
Sure, one-putts that find the hazard are uncommon, but No. 13 sets players up for moments such as that one. The area beyond and including the backside of the green is a popular landing zone for many pros’ second shots. You’ll see many players with dainty chip shots or lengthy putts down the sloping green to the pin. They might not end in the water, but they oftentimes turn thoughts of a birdie back toward par.
5. The Pitch Shot From a Layup on 15
The Masters is won and lost on par-5s. Some of the greatest turning points in tournament history happen at Nos. 13 and 15 on the back nine. The 15th hole is plenty enticing for pros to try and reach in two for a two-putt birdie. Tiger’s unpredictable driver will make that difficult for him, though. He’ll probably find himself laying up, more often than not, for likely the scariest shot he’ll face all week.
Distance control is the key to this pitch on 15. Being long is safer than being short, but not so long that the pond beyond the hole comes into play. Getting cute with the pitch, though, keeps the first pond in play as well. The hole doesn’t stray too far from the hazard, especially on Friday. Tiger knows this all too well since his ill-fated pitch in 2013 careened off the pin and into the hazard.
The 15th green is a classic Augusta trickster. Friends of mine snuck onto the Augusta National grounds a few years back and dropped a ball on the top of the 15th green and it trickled down the ridge, gaining steam on a dry Tuesday night, rolling all the way into the drink. That was just a drop. Imagine an high-velocity, high-spin pitch shot. Yikes.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher T.J. Tomasi, Ph.D., is a senior professor and director of research at Keiser University in Port St. Lucie, Fla.