124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2



Strategy

Masters 2023: Changes to Augusta National’s 13th hole made a huge difference this year

April 09, 2023
Masters 2023

Ben Walton

After helping design Augusta National alongside Alister MacKenzie, Bobby Jones called it a "momentous decision" that presented itself at the par-5 13th hole on players' second shots—either go for the green with a long iron or fairway wood off a sidehill lie and risk finding Rae’s Creek, or lay up to the right. When the club decided to lengthen the hole by 35 yards ahead of this year’s Masters, the goal was to restore the strategy that had disappeared as modern equipment rendered Azalea a no-brainer two-shotter—with a short iron for most. So with the first Masters with the new tee behind us, are today’s best once again facing the momentous decision? The results are in, and we're seeing a significant difference in how the hole was played this week at the least.

In the cumulative history of the Masters, the 13th has played as the easiest hole on the course. This week, however, it played as the toughest of the four par 5s, which is the first time that has happened since 2013. For the week, players averaged 4.74, which is considerably better than last year’s 4.85, but it is higher than the scoring average in many recent years. What's more, as the wind stiffened and shfited out of the north on Sunday (into players' faces on the tee), the scoring average in the final round soared to 4.85, the highest average of the par 5s by a considerable margin.

A closer look at the stats

Part of this is because there were nine double bogeys or worse for the tournament. That exceeds the total from the tournament in 2021 (eight), 2020 (two) and 2019 (four). (For what it’s worth, there were 10 doubles or worse in 2022.)

But players still made eagles. For the week, there were eight eagles on the 545-yard hole, which is more than the six made at the 2022 Masters. This week's tally equaled the eight eagles made in 2021 and 2020. So, players made more doubles and just as many, if not more, eagles. That’s volatility, the kind that Jones envisioned.

How players approached the 13th differently

Numbers aside, anecdotally we saw a little bit of everything from players. Amateur Sam Bennett, who finished T-16, hit a wood into the green from 230 yards for his second shot on Thursday. He found the back bunker but executed a great sand shot to make birdie. In the second round, he was a few yards closer but decided to lay up. He made birdie.

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Patrick Smith

In the cold, wet conditions on Saturday morning in the resumption of the second round, it wasn't a surprise to see eventual winner Jon Rahm, one of the world's best off-the-tee players, lay up from 235 yards—but consider how this hole has played in years past, and it's quite the adjustment.

Some other examples show how the changes affected play this week:

Collin Morikawa, who finished T-10, had 241 yards left in the first round. His 4-iron found the water, leading to bogey. He laid up on Friday after having 227 yards left to the pin from the pine straw and parred it. Viktor Hovland made an easy two-putt birdie after knocking it on from 225 in the first round. Tom Kim hit it inside 10 feet on Thursday from outside 220 yards. Jason Day laid up all four rounds.

And then there’s Jordan Spieth, who decided to go for the green from 230 yards off the pine straw on Thursday. He found the tributary of Rae’s Creek, dropped and made double bogey. “I struck it well. It was a really bad decision. … Just a mistake I don’t normally make out here that was really frustrating,” Spieth said after the round. On Friday, after having just 206 yards left for his second, he decided to lay up. Sure, the approach from the left side of the fairway would have required a significant draw, but Spieth deemed it not worth the risk.

A nuanced decision off the tee

The added distance to the hole not only changed how players are approached their second shots—it seemed to have an effect off the tee. Before the change, players were able to get home in two from either side of the fairway. Now, a tee shot well out to the right leaves a lengthy second, so some players hugged the left side.

On Thursday, Brooks Koepka drove it left into the trees, took a drop, laid up and made bogey. He continued to hug the left side in the second round, narrowly missing Rae’s Creek and leaving only 194 yards left to the pin, setting up a straightforward birdie. On Friday, Sam Burns drove it out of play to the left, forcing him to re-tee and leading to a bogey. Adam Scott’s tee shot during the first round clipped the trees on the left, traveling only 230 yards and forcing him to hit a massive hook just to lay up.

Leading on the back nine on Sunday, Rahm decided to take the aggressive route down the left side off the tee, and it paid off. A well-positioned drive of 307 yards left him just 200 left to the pin, setting him up for a straightforward up-and-down for birdie off the back edge.

The evidence, numerically and anecdotally, suggests players faced a more nuanced decision—both off the tee and on their second shots—than they have in recent years. But then there’s this statistic from DataGolf.com, which notes that the average driving distance for the field on the 13th on Thursday was nearly 30 yards longer than last year, presumably because players are now hitting drivers instead of 3-woods.

Players averaged just under 300 yards off the tee in the first round on the par 5, compared to an average in the low 270s last year. So the distance increase off the tee nearly offsets the 35-yard lengthening, meaning players were facing similar second shots to those they had last year. Yet, with the cold and rainy weather on Saturday, much of the field was well back off the tee and playing the hole as a three-shotter.

All of this is to say, the early results appear as if Augusta National has restored the famed 13th to Bobby Jones’ original vision for particular conditions. We saw a little bit of everything this week, which was a welcome change from recent years when going for the green with a short- or mid-iron was a foregone conclusion. We'll need a few more years worth of data across varying conditions to assess the real impact of the change.