Fri. Jul 19th, 2019

Golf: Augusta’s longer fifth offers new top threat at Masters

MastersThe par-4 fifth hole at the Augusta National Country club has been picked out as potentially the hardest hole for this year’s US Masters.

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Superstar Tiger Woods, top-ranked Justin Rose and oddsmaker favorite Rory McIlroy made final preparations Wednesday on the eve of the 83rd Masters, where Augusta National’s revamped fifth hole is causing concern.

Tension mounted around the famed golf club as the field of 87 played their final practice rounds before the year’s first major tournament begins Thursday morning.

“If I’m at a venue too long, sometimes I’m like a cat on a hot tin roof,” world number one Justin Rose said. “By Wednesday I want to get started.”

Third-ranked McIlroy, a four-time major champion, can complete a career Grand Slam by winning his first green jacket this week.

Woods, a 14-time major champion seeking his fifth Masters triumph and first major win since the 2008 US Open, is the highest-ranked player to win the Masters at 12th.

Rose, the 2013 US Open winner and twice a Masters runner-up, has never missed a cut in 13 starts at Augusta National but sees every year as a new challenge under the Georgia pines.

“It’s a new body of work,” Rose said. “The golf course doesn’t know how I’ve done here. I’ve got to step up on the first tee on Thursday and build something new.”

Augusta National has already built something new at the par-4 fifth hole by moving back the tee 40 yards, shifting the bunkers and rebuilding the green to offer a tough new pin placement.

“Number five is probably going to play the toughest hole now for sure,” Rose said.

Now the hole plays 495 yards and delivers a shotmaking challenge similar to that envisioned by designers of the 86-year-old layout.

“We believe this change maintains the original shot philosophy of Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie,” said Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley.

In addition to moving the fifth tee across what had been a neighboring road, the club rebuilt the 18th green — in each case making the changes appear part of the natural landscape.

“It’s just amazing,” Woods said. “Over all the years I’ve been here, every time they make a change, it seems like it has been here for 100 years. It just looks exactly like it has always been here. Number five is no exception and 18 looks immaculate.”

McIlroy and reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy both see the second shot at the fourth being a 4-iron now after being a 7-iron in past years.

“Because they moved the bunkers back as well, the tee shot is pretty much the same,” Molinari said. “The second shot is considerably longer. I think it’s going to be around a three-club difference.

“But yeah, it will look very similar to how it was. It will be hard for people watching on TV to notice the difference.”

McIlroy likes that more players must hit drivers off the fifth tee, and risk the bunkers, to avoid a tricky approach.

“I think five has been a very good change,” he said. “I’ve always felt like the front nine here plays a shot harder than the back nine, and now it probably plays about a shot and a half harder because of the added length on five.”

And Woods issued a cautionary note about the shifted sands.

“The bunkers, they are still deep. I think they are unplayable,” he said. “To get the ball to the green, you need to stay out of those bunkers.”

– A corner to rival Amen? –

Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson compares the corner holes four, five and six to its more famous back-nine cousin, Amen Corner.

“The stretch of four, five and six has always been a difficult stretch you try to get through in par,” he said.

“Guys that are playing well will be able to make par there much easier and pick up a quarter or half a stroke on the field.”

Amen Corner’s opening 11th hole had three-time major winner Jordan Spieth’s vote as Augusta National’s toughest hole — until this week.

“I would have said 11 is the toughest hole on the course — prior to the new number five,” Spieth said. “It’s really hard.”

By Jim Slater

© Agence France-Presse

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