AUGUSTA, Ga. -- For years the two first-nine par 3s at Augusta National have lived in relative anonymity compared to their more visually striking and drama-inducing counterparts on the second nine. But that doesn't mean that they're not critical to the competition. In fact, Jack Nicklaus once said of the fourth and sixth holes, "Even when I was winning, if I played [the first-nine par 3s] even par or one over, I thought I did pretty well." In short, they are likely to provide an early indicator of who will perform well this weekend.
*The par-3 sixth, along with the fourth, is more difficult than it looks. Photo by Getty Images
Masters veterans know the 240-yard fourth and 180-yard sixth combine to form one of the most dynamic pair of one-shotters ever produced -- a one-two punch that tests the nerve and skill of Masters competitors on a yearly basis.
Augusta's fourth, in particular, has shown not only some teeth, but also plenty of bite. In the last decade the fourth has ranked between the third-hardest and seventh-hardest hole nine times. Lloyd Mangrum may have dubbed Augusta's 12th "The meanest little hole in the world," but No. 4 has doled out more than its share of angst over the years, including Greg Norman's tee shot in the final round of 1996 -- a 4-iron that caught a gust of wind and found sand, causing Norman to drop his head in disbelief. The ensuing bogey helped swing the momentum towards Faldo, who went on to win his third Masters.
Although players say the fourth can be more difficult than getting a dinner reservation in Augusta during Masters Week, they're quick to add that a birdie on No. 6 can be as sweet as a Georgia peach.
Bob Jones once proclaimed No. 6 the easiest hole on the course." The only problem is that such thinking is somewhat flawed. Only four times since 1982 has No. 6 been ranked higher than eighth in difficulty. It's also one of the most intimidating shots players face in the first six holes.
A downhill par 3 (the green is 24 feet below the tee) that is guarded by a single bunker, the hole boasts a green that slopes severely from right to left and back to front. Phil Mickelson made a 5 on the sixth during the final round in 1995 to take himself out of contention and Jose Maria Olazabal carded a dreaded "other" (a 7) in 1991. He ended up losing by one to Ian Woosnam.
Only two champions have managed to bogey both No. 4 and No. 6 in the final round and gone on to win (Byron Nelson in 1942 and Ian Woosnam in 1991). And while no champion has ever birdied both No. 4 and No. 6 in the final round, 21 winners have played the two holes in one under par during the final round.
It should be interesting to see how these holes affect the outcome this year.
(And check out the new ranking of America's 100 Greatest Courses, led by Augusta National.)
--* E. Michael Johnson