AUGUSTA, Ga. — The par-3 12th at Augusta National measures a mere 155 yards, the shortest hole on the course. On Thursday, though, it proved to be a big headache for a number of players trying to get off to a good start at the 81st Masters. No wonder Lloyd Mangrum once dubbed it, “the meanest little hole in the world.”
During the first round it was more than mean. It was downright nasty. Swirling winds gusting to 30 miles per hour made club selection little more than a best guess for players, including Thomas Pieters, who came to the hole leading the tournament at four under par and left it two under after his tee shot—which he made solid contact with—came up woefully short and wet.
“I hit an 8-iron, and I had plenty,” Pieters said afterwards. “Francesco [Molinari] hit 30 seconds later and his seemed to be going downwind, so you can’t do anything about it. … If you catch the wrong gust at the wrong time, then you look stupid like I did on 12. But that’s just Augusta, I guess.”
Struggles on the hole weren’t limited to Pieters. In all the 12th surrendered just six birdies while forcing five double bogeys or worse. Although it got slightly easier as the day wore on, its stroke average was 3.312, ranking it as the fifth-hardest hole on the course in relation to par.
The hole’s hazards come in the form of the visible and invisible: Rae’s Creek fronts the green and a trio of bunkers protect the front and rear of a putting surface that is approximately 100 feet wide but just 27 feet deep at its narrowest point. But the player’s greatest fear is one they can’t see—the most fickle wind in all of golf. It is said the hole was once an Indian burial ground and that the winds are the result of their displeasure at having been disturbed. When the hole plays as difficult as it did during the first round it does nothing to detract from that theory.
Rickie Fowler escaped with a par, but spoke of the challenge. “[No.] 12’s dicey,” Fowler said. “[The wind] is kind of just quartering enough off the right where there's some hurt, but if you ride the wind it almost starts helping. So you will see some guys long, some guys short.”
Though it has rightfully earned its reputation as, what six-time Masters champ Jack Nicklaus calls it, “the most demanding tournament hole in the world,” No. 12 doesn’t always show such strength. In the last 10 years it has ranked a benign ninth in difficulty twice and a fairly easy 13th two other times. But when conditions are difficult, it goes from pushover to penal. Four times in that same span it ranked in the top five in difficulty, including second in 2009. In those 10 Masters it has produced an even 200 double bogeys or worse, representing about one in every seven such scores made at Augusta National during that time frame.