AUGUSTA, Ga. — During his Wednesday press conference, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley noted of the new tee box on the par-4 fifth hole, “We believe this change maintains the original design philosophy of Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie.”
After one round of the 2019 Masters, Ridley (along with the spirits of Jones and MacKenzie) should be pleased with the results. On Thursday, the fifth hole, now longer by 40 yards and playing at a stout 495 yards, produced a stroke average of 4.276, ranking fourth in difficulty and yielding just four birdies to Gary Woodland, Marc Leishman, Billy Horschel and Hideki Matsuyama.
Although it never completely lost its bite, No. 5 was missing a tooth or two over the last couple of decades, ranking roughly the seventh most difficult hole on average, and finishing fourth or tougher just twice—the last time in 2010. That is in contrast to the hole Jones and MacKenzie originally composed, one that ranked fourth or tougher for the first 17 years that the tournament has records for individual hole stats.
Ridley cited the club’s desire to “continue our commitment to keep the course in step with the changing state of the game,” and a quote from the past and present illustrate the effectiveness of the change in adhering to that statement.
Jones once wrote in Sports Illustrated of the fifth hole, “Players lacking the necessary confidence to play along the dangerous left side sometimes become overcautious and play too closely down the right side of the fairway. From this side the second shot to the green becomes much longer and far more difficult.”
Move to this week and the words of Francesco Molinari. “The second shot, obviously is longer, considerably longer,” said the reigning Open champion after playing No. 5 in a practice round. “So yesterday it was playing into the wind, and probably with the old tee, we would have been hitting 7-iron in, and we were hitting 4-iron in. I think it's going to be around a three club difference.” Or, “a much longer and far more difficult” approach.
The tee was not only pushed back some 40 yards, but the pair of fairway bunkers on the left were moved as well. Although they maintain their previous shape of being deep with tall faces to contend with, they also require a 313-yard carry to clear them off the tee, meaning most players are either laying up short of them or trying to thread the fairway to the right, no easy play in either case.
In all, the hole produced 24 bogeys and a pair of double bogeys, inflicting some damage on those near the top of the leader board. Justin Harding and Jon Rahm each shot 69 but bogeyed No. 5. So did Tiger Woods, who finished with a two-under-par 70. Paul Casey, thought by many to be a potential contender this week, earned one of the doubles.
“It’s really hard,” said 2015 champion Jordan Spieth earlier in the week. “Between there and 11, I may even consider 5 a more difficult hole now. … If you take the bunkers out of play by hitting 3-wood, like I used to; now you’re pushed back another 30, 35 yards from the green, and it’s 3-wood, 4-iron or hybrid. Or you can try and hit driver and the bunkers are essentially a penalty stroke, and you still have a mid-iron in.
“I’m struggling a little bit right now on how to play the hole, so I’ll have to figure that out over the next couple days.”
Given how No. 5 held up Thursday, so will everyone else.