Azalea Returns to Form

Risk and reward have come back to the par-5 13th hole at the Masters


Over the past two decades, distance gains at the elite level of golf have pushed Augusta National to carry out increasingly extreme renovations. This process has proven costly and, in some cases, detrimental to the design and flow of the golf course. This year, however, the club made the best of a tough situation. The new back tee on No. 13, which stretched the par 5 from 510 to 545 yards, succeeded in restoring variety, decision-making, and drama to the last leg of Amen Corner.

Prior to the tournament, some players (and many Twitter users) worried that the added length would turn the 13th hole into an auto-layup. That didn’t happen. In the first round, 64% of the field went for the green in two shots, while only 19% laid up after hitting the fairway.

On Friday and Saturday, deteriorating conditions made the hole harder to attack. Round two saw 45% of players go for it and 28% lay up from the fairway. In round three, played in cold, drizzly weather on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, only 15% of the post-cut field—a total of eight players—tried to reach the green in two, with 78% laying up from the fairway.

These stats may provide ammunition for critics of the lengthening. Phil Mickelson remarked after his Sunday round, “I mean, I like going for that hole. I just couldn’t reach it this morning when it was into the wind and wet, and I liked having a chance to kind of go for it. I think it’s what makes that hole so exciting, is that risk-reward opportunity, and when it’s taken away, nobody really likes that.” Mickelson added, however, that he believed No. 13 “played the way [the club] wanted it to.”

Here’s the thing, though: even in the foulest weather during the third round, the risk-reward dimension of the hole never truly disappeared. Eight players, despite rain and wind, tried to reach the green in two: Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland, Keith Mitchell, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Sahith Theegala, and Cameron Young. Hovland, Shauffele, Scheffler, Spieth, and Young hit the green; Mitchell and Theegala landed in the tributary of Rae’s Creek. In the context of 85% of the field laying up, these attempts were exciting to watch, and the successful ones were genuinely impressive.

Conditions improved in the final round, and 51% of the field, including both members of the last pairing, went for the green in two. Winds were still gusting, though, so 19% of players found water on their second shots—and that number doesn’t even include Tony Finau’s and Cameron Smith’s efforts, which bounced off rocks in the streambed and came to rest on dry ground. In all, 44% of go-for-the-green attempts tangled with the tributary in some way.

Courtesy of the Masters Tournament

Since the jeopardy was so real, it was thrilling to see players hit long irons, hybrids, even fairway woods into the 13th green. Jordan Spieth’s hybrid from 239 yard bounded over the back of the green, into a bunker we’ve rarely seen disturbed in recent years. His playing partner Phil Mickelson also used a hybrid and found the middle of the green, resulting in a birdie and contributing to his T-2 finish. These were difficult shots, performed under intense pressure.

Equally intriguing, at least to this golf nerd, were Russell Henley’s tactics. He laid up from the fairway in all four rounds, made par each time, and finished in a tie for fourth, five strokes behind Jon Rahm. When Henley reflects on this week, will he regret not playing more aggressively on No. 13? Or will he just wish his wedges had been more precise?

The 13th at Augusta National has once again become a hole that players might think about all year long.

“It’s probably the perfect golf hole,” Geoff Ogilvy once said on our podcast, “and if it isn’t the perfect golf hole, it’s as close as you can get.” A couple of imperfections did become evident this past week. The trees to the left of the fairway should be cut back between the landing zone and the green. Right now, if you challenge the water on your tee shot, overhanging limbs obstruct your approach. That risky path should be left open, as it was when Mark O’Meara played the hole in 1998.

Also, please get rid of those rocks in the creek. Someday those things are going to ruin a Masters!

But I’m getting greedy. The 13th hole at Augusta National is back, and if it isn’t the perfect golf hole, it’s damn close.

This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.