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Jack Nicklaus calls Golden Bell, the par-3 12th hole at Augusta National, "the hardest hole in tournament golf," and the little devil—only 155 yards—took its toll again last week.
Despite relatively benign conditions—not too much wind, surprisingly soft turf—the 12th ranked as the third-toughest hole on the course, with a stroke average of 3.23. Only the brutish par-4 11th, with a 4.33 average, and the 1st (4.24) were more difficult. Barely half (52%) of the world's finest players hit the green in regulation, and there were more double bogeys (17) and dreaded "others" (6) made on 12 than on any other hole. Since the Masters was first played, only three holes in one have come at the 12th, the last by Curtis Strange in 1988. By comparison, 13 aces have been made at the longer (170 yards) 16th hole.
What makes the 12th so tough? First, at 26 yards deep, the hourglass-shaped green is the second smallest at Augusta (after the 15th, which is 24 yards) and angled slightly away from the tee. Second, the green is guarded front and back by deep bunkers. Third, Rae's Creek runs below the steep front of the green complex. And finally, because the hole is located in the lowest spot on the property and backed by tall trees, even a slight breeze can turn into an unpredictable swirl. "There's no bailout," says veteran pro David Toms. "Just suck it up and hit a shot."
There was a long list of victims last week. Luke Donald hit into Rae's Creek and made a rally-killing double bogey on Sunday, while contenders Angel Cabrera, K.J. Choi and Tiger Woods all bogeyed the hole during the final round. For the first two days, bogeys or worse outnumbered birdies by a 64--28 margin. One of the glam groups of the opening rounds, young and powerful Masters rookies Jhonattan Vegas (26) and Gary Woodland (26), and second-year participant Alvaro Quiros (27), were laid low by Golden Bell on Friday. The threesome needed a combined 14 strokes to finish the hole—and it could've been worse.
Hitting first, Woodland dumped his eight-iron shot into Rae's Creek. "Quiros saw me and probably gave his eight-iron a little more and he went in the back bunker," Woodland said. "Then Vegas pulled his long and left. The wind was really swirling."
So the adventure began. Quiros left his second shot in the sand, hit his third onto the green and two-putted. Double bogey. Vegas chipped on but also needed two putts. Bogey. Woodland dropped in the fairway and played his third shot into the back bunker. His fourth barely escaped the trap and settled into the first cut. He was looking at a sure "other" but holed a lob wedge shot for a double.
It was unusually quiet on the 13th tee. "Nobody said a word," Quiros said. "You could see Gary Woodland's face, and my face, too. It was not the proper time to make a joke."
Woodland would finish 24th, and Quiros 27th. Vegas missed the cut by three shots.
Golden Bell was also to blame for U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell's demise. During the second round McDowell's seven-iron shot flew the green left of the back bunker and disappeared into the pine straw on the hillside. That led to an odd sight—McDowell, playing partners Robert Allenby and Tiger Woods and their caddies searching for the ball until the five-minute time limit expired. You don't see Tiger looking for a lost ball very often. McDowell had to make the walk of shame back to the tee and try again. He ended up with a triple bogey and missed the cut by two. "I felt as if I hit a decent shot in there," McDowell said. "It plugged in the pine straw and was gone forever. Twelve was the killer blow for me."
Same for Sean O'Hair. He flared a weak eight-iron that splashed into Rae's Creek, pitched into the back bunker from the drop area and also made triple. He shot a 40 on the back and missed the cut by one.