Plead The Fifth? New hole lives up to its big-yardage billing
Magnolia, you sweet thing, you’re driving me mad.
The late, great songwriter J.J. Cale probably wasn’t pondering the fifth hole at Augusta National when he wrote those lyrics decades ago. Still, most competitors in the 83rd Masters Tournament felt his pain with each stroke they made on the 495-yard par 4.
Augusta National renovated the fifth in the last year, lengthening the hole by 40 yards, moving the left bunkers into the landing area and softening the contours on the taxing green. Players felt the beautiful finished product looked like it had been there forever. The alterations worked in harmony to produce the toughest test in this year’s Masters.
Masters champion Tiger Woods hit the fairway and reached the green in regulation Sunday for the first time all week on the hole that shares a name with Cale’s tune. But he settled for a fourth consecutive bogey, three-putting from a precarious position 39 feet from the cup in the far right portion of the green.
The fifth played into the Southern wind all four rounds to generate a 4.336 stroke average, two-tenths higher than a year ago and the highest on the hole since 1972, when Cale penned the song about missing his lover.
There was no love lost on No. 5 for Matt Fitzpatrick, a slightly built Englishman, who was 45th in the field in driving distance.
“The golf hole as a whole with the extra 50 yards just plays into the hands of the bigger hitters. I’ve spoke to a couple of members about it, they’ve asked my opinion and it’s fine, you’re allowed to be honest about it,” he said after Saturday’s round when he hooked his drive there but managed to save par. “It’s not helped me much.”
Fitzpatrick used either a 7-wood or 4-iron for his approach shot in each round.
He didn’t change his tune Sunday after he made one of only 13 birdies recorded all week on the fifth, sinking a twisting 59-footer from the front of the green.
Such impressive putting was rare. Golfers needed 1.836 putts per green in regulation on the hole - more than any other at Augusta National by a tenth of a stroke.
Despite making four pars at the fifth, Rory McIlroy, a pre-tournament favorite, never factored in this Masters, but will return to Augusta chasing the career Grand Slam next April with a favorable opinion of the renovation.
“It puts driver back in guys’ hands, which I think is a good thing,” McIlroy said. “It made the front nine play a half-shot tougher.”
McIlroy, another of the Tour’s bombers, was mildly surprised the fifth was Augusta National’s stiffest challenge.
“If I’m hitting 5-iron in there, it’s a bit of brute for the other guys,” he said.
Masters rookie Aaron Wise, 29th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, appreciated No. 5’s challenge.
“It’s really hard. I smoked a drive today and still had 4-iron in to a pin that’s tucked over that slope. It’s just a really, really difficult hole,” he said.
“I played it 1-over this week and I’m happy with that. You kind of know it going in. Even though it says it’s a par 4, if you make a bogey it’s not the end of the world because people are going to do that.”
The shortest and longest approach shots to No. 5 occurred in round one – Shane Lowry had 175 yards in while Jose Maria Olazabal had 262. On the week, 74 percent of the field hit the fairway and 53 percent hit the green, making it the sixth most difficult to reach in regulation.
Phil Mickelson provided the best shot of the week, ripping his 215-yard approach within inches of the cup in Sunday’s final round.
But some left town singing a sad tune about Augusta National’s new beast.
“I don’t know what they were trying to accomplish to be completely honest,” Charley Hoffman said. “I think the only good thing that came out of it is that fourth hole, you don’t have to wait for that tee shot on 5 anymore. Whatever they did to 5 is what they did but I think it really cleaned up the fourth hole.”