AUGUSTA, Ga. — Not even 24 hours had passed after last year’s Masters ended, and the preparations for this year’s tournament were underway.
It started with heavy equipment – brought onto Augusta National to remove a massive tree from its former home near the 15th tee.
While some traditions at Augusta National are hardly ever altered and some rules are downright absolute, the course itself has a long history of evolving with the times. And the process of changing some things for this year’s Masters, which begins Thursday, started immediately after last year’s tournament ended. The primary changes this year: making the par-4 11th and par-5 15th both 15 to 20 yards longer and lowering the tee boxes on both holes.
“I think this place changes a little bit every year,” world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler said.
He’s not wrong.
Golf balls simply fly farther now than they did years ago because of technology. Golfers are bigger and stronger. These are not new developments, of course. Courses had to adjust with all of that, and most have, Augusta National certainly among them.
Augusta National makes no secret it looks at possible changes every year, and usually tweaks something at minimum to ensure that it remains a tough but fair test.
“That’s what this place is all about. It’s as much of a chess game as anything else,” said Rory McIlroy, who needs a Masters win to complete the career Grand Slam. “It’s just about putting yourself in the right positions and being disciplined and being patient and knowing that pars are good.”
It’s not like the 11th and 15th holes were screaming out for change. The 11th was the second-toughest hole in relation to par at last year’s Masters, with the average score about 4.4 and birdie being made only about 5.3% of the time.
And now it figures to be even more difficult, with not only added length but changes to the contour of the fairway. Some trees were removed from the right side of the fairway, though that alone won’t make it play any easier.
“We thought the Larry Mize shot is gone,” five-time Masters champion Tiger Woods said. “Now it’s really gone.”
The 11th hole – White Dogwood, as it is called at Augusta National – played at around 455 yards in 1987, when Mize holed out a chip from well off the right side of the green for birdie and the Masters title in a playoff over Greg Norman . It plays at 520 yards now.
The 15th was the fourth-easiest hole on the course last year – average score 4.77 – but the toughest of the four par-5’s. It’s the hole where Gene Sarazen hit a 4-wood from 235 yards for double eagle in 1935.
The tee got pushed back about 20 yards this year and, earlier in the week, Lee Westwood was hitting his approach from 267. A hole that the Masters touts as “famously reachable” isn’t so reachable anymore.
“It certainly makes you think now,” Westwood said. “Even if you hit a good drive, it’s not an immediate, ‘Yes, I’m going to go for it.’ … It’s really a juggling act and an evaluation of whether it’s easier to hit a 100-yard pitch shot into a green that’s sloping slightly against you than it is a 20-yard through the back with it running away from you towards the water. It certainly makes you think.”
While the changes to 11 and 15 get most of the attention, the greens on three other holes – the par-4 3rd, the par-5 13th and the par-4 17th – also were redone in the last year, which isn’t uncommon.
Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said one byproduct of that was the potential for perhaps a new pin placement than the usual spots on those greens. Put simply, even golfers who knew every nuance of Augusta National had to release some things on the fly for this week.
“That’s really what we were trying to incorporate, the risk-reward element into some of these changes we made,” Ridley said.
PAR 3 CONTEST: As tradition dictates, there is now very bad news to report about Canadian golfers Mike Weir and Mackenzie Hughes.
Neither will win the Masters.
That is, if you believe the superstition – or at least, believe in the history. No player has won the Par 3 Contest and gone on to win the Masters in the same year, a trend that Weir and Hughes will both try to buck when this year’s tournament starts Thursday.
Weir and Hughes shared the Par 3 title on Wednesday, both finishing 4 under. Play started late because of the threat of weather and ended early when more inclement weather was approaching the area.
“It’s fun. This is a very special day for me,” Hughes said. “This is my third Masters and my first Par 3 Contest. I was really excited to get out here and do this. Very lucky that the weather held off for us.”
Depending on how you count, Hughes either had three caddies or zero caddies. He carried his own bag, while caddy No. 1 (his wife) kept watchful eyes on caddies No. 2 and No. 3 (their kids).
“My youngest, Cohen, he’s 16 months on Monday, so he wanted to get after every ball on the green, heading towards lakes,” Hughes said. “So definitely priority No. 1 was to keep them on grass. Did that.”
It was the first Par 3 event at the Masters – the traditional, family friendly Wednesday afternoon prequel to the real thing – since 2019. The 2020 and 2021 events didn’t happen because of the pandemic.
Some of the “patrons” on the short course, with holes ranging from 70 to about 140 yards in length, didn’t exactly behave. Sergio Garcia missed the green at No. 1, perhaps because a child loudly announced during Garcia’s swing that he’d be taking a turn next. Kids ran on the greens, others jumped up and down by the tee boxes.
Obviously, nobody minded.
“Special family time,” Justin Rose said.
Caddies hit balls into the water, wives took putts for their tour-player husbands – Lacey Homa had a birdie for her husband Max – and about 40 players were technically inligible to win because someone else played their ball at some point during the contest.
Again, nobody minded that, either.
There are 11 men who have won both the Masters and the Par-3 Contest — Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd, Vijay Singh, Mark O’Meara, Tommy Aaron, Sandy Lyle, Gay Brewer and Art Wall Jr.
Just never in the same year.
Weir, however, said he didn’t believe in the Par 3 winning jinx.
“You come out and you want to hit some good shots and get a good feel and leave a good taste in your mouth,” Weir said.
FEATURED GROUPS: The Masters’ digital platforms will stream 18-hole “spotlight coverage of select groupings” during Thursday’s opening round – two trios from the morning and two more in the afternoon.
It means those who want to see every shot Tiger Woods plays Thursday will be able to do so.
The 10:34 am grouping of Woods, Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann is the first featured trio on the schedule for Thursday, followed by the 10:56 am group of Adam Scott, Scottie Scheffler and Tony Finau.
The afternoon groupings getting the same coverage: Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel and Collin Morikawa teeing off at 1:30 pm, and Jordan Spieth, Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele, who begin at 1:52 pm