Masters 2020: How Tiger Woods plays every hole at Augusta National
“Horses for courses” is a bit of a golf cliche, but it’s undeniable that some players are better suited to certain venues than others.
To describe Tiger Woods’ success at Augusta National as simply a horse-for-course situation feels … reductive. It’s more like an artist and his canvas. Woods has played in 20 Masters as a professional and has never missed the cut. He’s won it five times and finished in the top five 12 times. Perhaps most impressively, he’s done it a number of different ways—he overpowered the course in his younger days, but has had to rely on course management and precision as the years have progressed.
And just as Woods’ game has evolved, so has Augusta National. The course has been lengthened by more than 500 yards since Woods’ first Masters victory in 1997. As such, the way he plots around golf’s cathedral has changed throughout the years. We spoke with the man himself about how, at 44, he likes to attack Augusta National. —Daniel Rapaport
No. 1: “Tea Olive,” par 4, 445 yards
I’ve always loved this hole. Just a great opener and always a terrific atmosphere, at least in normal years. It’s gotten so much longer over the years. In my first Masters, in 1995, I remember it was misting and I still didn’t even consider the bunker down the right. Just flew it no problem and had a 60-degree wedge in. Now the carry’s around 310, which is a non-starter for me these days, unless there’s a strong easterly wind. A lot of the longer guys hit 3-wood and end up next to the bunker, and I’ll likely do the same. That’ll leave a 7- to 9-iron into the green. Generally aim at the center of the green here because it’s the first hole and you’re not trying to get crazy aggressive at a flag. I’ll be happy playing that hole in even par for the week.
How he played it in 2019: Woods parred the opener all four days.
No. 2: “Pink Dogwood,” par 5, 575 yards
Another hole that has changed so much since I started playing here. In ’95, I remember hitting 8-iron, 9-iron or even wedge into the green. I used to carry the bunker down the right no problem, but I can’t do that anymore unless the wind is pumping out of the north. And even then, it’s close. So you have to stay left of it, and it’s a hole where being able to turn one over off the tee definitely helps. Up at the green, sometimes it’s better to be in the bunkers and sometimes it’s better to be pitching from the fairway—it depends not just on the pin placement, but the condition of the sand. Some years it’s heavier than others, and other years it’s a bit lighter, which allows you to play more shots. But by and large, it’s all about angles and missing in a spot where you have green to work with. It’s so important to play the first four holes in at least one under, which makes birdie here crucial.
How he played it in 2019: Woods made birdie at 2 on Thursday but parred it the other three days. On Sunday, he hooked his tee shot close to a creek that runs down the left but eventually saved par.
No. 3: “Flowering Peach,” par 4, 350 yards
Lot of options off this tee. I suspect a lot of the guys will go for the green with how far they’re hitting it these days. For me, it depends on the softness of the fairways and the wind direction. If it’s coming out of the west I won’t hit driver because I can’t get myself to the upslope in front of the green. If I can get to the upslope, I may hit driver because I can hit a soft enough wedge shot to control it. The play used to be hitting driver over the bunkers on the left, but now there’s a second cut of rough over there. Usually, if the pin is middle or right, you utilize the right-to-left slope on the green. But if the pin is left, sometimes I’ll fire at it because the pitch from long and left is pretty holeable. Important not to miss right of this green, because that’s a pretty impossible chip.
How he played it in 2019: Woods parred the hole the first three days and made birdie on Sunday, holing a 10-footer from just left of the flag.
No. 4: “Flowering Crab Apple,” par 3, 240 yards
One of the hardest holes on the course, just trying to make par here and move on. The wind is a big factor—you can get a gust and because the ball’s in the air for what feels like forever, it can really get affected by the wind. From the back tee I’ve hit as little as 5-iron to a front pin, and I’ve hit a cut 3-wood to the back-right location. It’s a really tough up-and-down from the front bunker, too. The hardest par 3 on the course.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played the difficult par 3 in even par for the week, making birdie on Friday and bogeying it in the final round. It was playing 247 yards on Friday and he hit 4-iron, which was right on line but came up well short.
No. 5: “Magnolia,” par 4, 495 yards
They moved the tees back a good 40 yards, which made carrying the bunker on the left impossible for basically everyone. When I was younger, I used to carry that bunker no problem at all and have a sand wedge in pretty much every day. Now, I hit 3-wood, just trying to stay right of the bunkers and get to the top of the hill so I have a look at the green. If you hit it in the bunker, there’s a good chance you can’t get your second to the green because the lip is pretty steep. I’ve talked to so many past champions about this approach shot and they all say the same thing: dump your ball to the middle of the green, make your 4 and move on. It’s always a tough lag putt, but that’s what it takes to win the Masters—great lag putting. If the pin is left-middle, you can use a funnel just over the front edge and get a good look at birdie, but we hardly get that pin anymore.
How he played it in 2019: The new, beefier No. 5 played as the toughest hole for the week, and Woods bogeyed it all four days.
No. 6: “Juniper,” par 3, 180 yards
It’s downhill quite a bit, so it’s all about judging how much to take off your shot and matching the trajectory to how far you’re trying to hit it. I don’t use adjusted numbers, but I’d guess it plays about 8 or 9 yards downhill without wind. The front-left pin placement is probably the easiest on the whole property because you have two backboards, one behind the hole and one to the right. To that pin, if you land anything in the middle of the green, you’re going to have a good look. With my strength with my irons, I always feel like I have a good chance to knock one close here, so long as the wind isn’t doing anything crazy. One interesting thing is if you do miss the green, the chip here has become so much harder with the grass being cut longer. The bump-and-runs that you used to see don’t really work anymore.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played the hole in one under for the week, birdieing it on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, he missed a 12-footer for birdie.
No. 7: “Pampas,” par 4, 450 yards
Much different tee shot than it used to be. When I first started playing I’d hit 1-iron off the tee and have a wedge in. Then one year Mark O’Meara actually convinced me to hit driver because I could carry the last tree on the left. I think I played it in three under that week, and then they lengthened it in 2002. Now I’ll go with 3-wood and generally have around an 8-iron in. This is another green where you can use a slope to get it close, particularly if the pin is over on the right. But it’s such a narrow green and long is absolutely dead, so you have to control your distance. If I hit this fairway, I’m in attack mode.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played the hole in two under for the week, leaving himself tap-in birdies on both Saturday and Sunday.
No. 8: “Yellow Jasmine,” par 5, 570 yards
I used to carry the bunker down the right and hit 4-iron into the green. Back in the day, you’d always hear guys talk about how Augusta plays into the long hitter’s hands—and it was true, because you could carry most of the fairway bunkers. Not the case anymore, and if there’s wind out of the north, I probably can’t even get home in two. They added mounding to the area just right of the green, which makes the chip from there much harder. The most accessible pin is front center or very back left, because that one gives you options—you can use the slope on the left or run something in there with draw spin, which will take the slope in the middle of the green and work it toward the hole. The approach is blind, so in normal years you rely on the crowd’s reaction to tell you how good it is. This year, not so much.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played the par 5 in just one under for the week, birdieing it on Saturday and Sunday but making a disappointing bogey on Friday. During the final round, he got up and down from over the green near the ninth tee box.
No. 9: “Carolina Cherry,” par 4, 460 yards
The key is to get it down there as far as possible and give yourself a short iron in, because the green is so severely sloped and you want something you can control coming in. Back in the day, they used to cut the inside of the dogleg downgrain and the outside of it against the grain, which would tempt us to try to cut it closer and hit a little speed slot. But they don’t really do that anymore. With the second shot, it’s vital not to get too cute because anything that comes up short will likely spin back off the green and could come all the way down the hill, which leaves a shot that’s just as tough as the approach. I like to use the backboard toward the back of the green, but even that’s a tricky one because if it stays up top, like it did on Sunday of last year, that’s one of the hardest lag puts you’ll ever have. I always try to land my approach at least pin high here to be safe.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played the hole in two under for the week, but his most memorable shot from the ninth last year was his lag putt on Sunday—a remarkably fast 50-footer that trickled out to tap-in range, prompting the ultra-rare fist pump for a putt he did not make.
No. 10: “Camellia,” par 4, 495 yards
I always talk about wanting to have the high, hard hook in my arsenal before I get to Augusta. This hole is one of the reasons why. You simply have to turn something over right-to-left or it’s going to land in the right side of the fairway and kick further right, ending up in the pine straw. Barring something unusual, I’ll roast a 3-wood and try and land it into the slope and have it run out. In addition to being a demanding tee shot, it’s one of the tougher greens on the course because it’s so steep from back right to front left. When the pin’s in the front, it’s almost impossible to get something below the hole, so you’re always left with a slippery putt with a ton of movement. There’s also a false edge toward the back of the green where your ball kind of scoots forward, so you might think it’s pin high, but it’s seven or eight feet past. Just a really difficult golf hole.
How he played it in 2019: Woods parred the hole the first three days but made bogey on Sunday after his tee shot missed right, forcing a layup.
No. 11: “White Dogwood,” par 4, 505 yards
I always hit driver here and try to keep it toward the right side of the fairway, because it makes the hole shorter and gives you a way better look at the green. You used to be able to miss it pretty far right and be OK, but now it’s a forest over there and you have to get lucky (which I did on Sunday last year). It’s usually anywhere from a 6- to a 9-iron. Obviously there’s the water short left, so you can’t get too aggressive to a pin on the left side of the green, where it usually is on Sunday. If you can get through 10 and 11 with two pars, you’re in great shape heading into the birdie holes.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played 11 in one under for the week, but the highlight was a par from the trees on Sunday, which kept him within shouting distance heading into 12.
No. 12: “Golden Bell,” par 3, 155 yards
Obviously, this hole was pivotal last year. It’s just so hard to judge the wind—it’s kind of blocked off by the trees, so there’s usually more up there than you feel at the tee. That’s what happened to Brooksy, Francesco, Tony and Poulter. It’s the easiest par 3 in the world on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but it’s a totally different ordeal when the tournament starts. The green somehow shrinks as you’re standing on the tee, and there’s really no good place to miss it. Right, obviously, gets you in the water, but long left is no joke either—the grass there doesn’t get much sun, so it can be a bit sandy and a really hard little pitch. I usually just aim over the middle-left part of the bunker and hit a solid, penetrating shot to the middle of the green. Safety first. If you can hit it to the middle of the green, it’s a relatively flat putt to the back-right hole location, so it’s makeable.
How he played it in 2019: Woods made par all four days, but the 3 he made on Sunday proved pivotal—four contenders found the water short of the green, including Francesco Molinari, who held a steady lead until a double bogey at 12.
No. 13: “Azalea,” par 5, 510 yards
Another hole where I turn to the high, hard hook. It’s such a great tee shot. You’re tucked away in the trees back there, away from all the patrons. Just pure golf. I always thought it was a bit easier for the lefties who can hit a cut, because that stays in the air longer, as draws tend to fall out of the sky a bit quicker. But then the second shot favors the right-hander, because the ball is above your feet rather than below it. Still, a tough approach because the ball is above your feet and the green slopes left to right—so it’s a huge advantage to be able to play a straight ball or even a cut off an uphill lie. That’s true anywhere at Augusta, but especially on this approach shot. It’ll usually be a mid-iron into the green so anything in the 15-foot range is a great play.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played the hole in three under for the week, birdieing it every day except Thursday.
No. 14: “Chinese Fir,” par 4, 440 yards
It’s not as easy a tee shot as it may look. Again, I always felt like this hole benefited the lefties because it really does help to turn one right to left. For me, I’m trying to hit a draw because it’ll hold the fairway better—if you lose one a little right or it has cut spin, it can find the second cut down there and end up behind a pine tree. If it’s into the wind, I’ll hit driver, but otherwise it’s a 3-wood that’ll leave something in the 7-iron range. This might be the best green on the property. If the pin is left and you bail out right, it can kick down the slope and you have a 65-footer way up a hill. They’ve added some pin placements here throughout the years, including one in the front and middle of the green. Overall, such an important hole to keep your momentum going from 13 and heading into 15.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played 14 in two under for the week, birdieing it in each of the first two rounds.
No. 15: “Firethorn,” par 5, 530 yards
The tee shot has always fit my eye, because you have to keep it on the right side of the fairway if you want an open look at the green. Last year on Sunday, I roasted a cut down the right side, and that’s what I’m trying to do always on this tee shot. I’ll go for it every time unless I have a 3-wood in, because I’m not sure I can land a 3-wood soft enough to hold the green, and if it goes over, then it gets really dicey. Before they added the second cut, if you missed long here it could go all the way to the pond on 16, but that’s not really a worry anymore. If you do have to lay up, it’s about giving yourself your preferred yardage and a good angle into the pin. It’s also important on a lay up not to get too close, because you need some room here.
How he played it in 2019: Woods birdied the hole every day except Thursday. His two-putt birdie on 15 on Sunday saw him take the lead for the first time all week.
No. 16: “Redbud,” par 3, 170 yards
They have a bunch of different hole locations here, and it makes the hole play completely different—like the one on the front right, which we always play to when the tee is up. That’s one of the tougher little 9-irons you’ll ever have to hit because it’s so domed, and if you miss right, that’s trouble. Obviously I’ve had some awesome memories on this hole throughout the years. With the Sunday pin, it’s a pretty straightforward shot—you gotta land something just left of the ridge in the middle and have it funnel down there. But if you bail out right, that’s an insanely fast putt down the slope. And if you pull it long and left like I did in 2005, that’s no picnic either. It’s classic Augusta in that way—if you hit the right shot, you’re going to have a good look at birdie. But if you miss, you’re playing defense.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played 16 in two under, birdieing it both days on the weekend. His birdie on Sunday, the result of a perfectly played 8-iron that took the slope and finished within four feet, gave him a two-shot cushion with two to play.
No. 17: “Nandina,” par 4, 440 yards
Back before they lost the Eisenhower Tree, this hole used to feel like a dogleg left because you had to stay right of it. I didn’t realize how straight the hole really is. Without that tree there, you can take your tee shot a little bit more left than you used to, and that’s a bit of a speed slot. It’s usually a 9-iron or so into the green, and if the pin is back left, I’ll get really aggressive because it’s one of the more straightforward approaches on the property—anything over the bunker will funnel to the hole. When it’s back right, then it’s a different story. I hardly ever go after that one. I’ll play short and give myself a putt up the hill, because long there is a total no-go. Just a brutal up-and-down that you don’t see guys convert very often.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played 17 in one over for the week, making three pars and a lone bogey on Thursday.
No. 18: “Holly,” par 4, 465 yards
Way back when, I used to be able to bomb driver over the left bunker, and you could hit it virtually anywhere. Now it’s close to 300 just to get to the bunker, and I’ll hit driver short of it if it’s into the wind. If not, I’ll hit 3-wood and stay short of it—but if you mis-hit it a bit, you can be blocked out by the trees on the right and have to hit a pretty sizable cut. The green was new last year and was a bit less severe than before. Such a special hole in my career. There have been times, like in ’97 and ’01, where I’ve been able to enjoy the walk because I knew I was going to win. And then there have been times like last year, where I knew I needed to focus in order to get it done. I always thought the toughest pin on this hole was back-left, but they never really put it there. With that Sunday pin, just got to play a little bit right of it and control your spin.
How he played it in 2019: Woods played it in one over for the week, his lone bogey coming on Sunday—but that was still enough to secure a one-shot victory, a fifth Masters and a 15th major championship.