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AUGUSTA, Ga. – The beauty of the 13th hole at Augusta National goes beyond the estimated 1,600 azalea bushes that are bursting with blooms down the left side and behind the green of the best little par 5 in golf.
It is the ultimate risk-and-reward hole, pleasing to play until one mistake from the tee, from the fairway, even from the green.
Curtis Strange once hit into the tributary of Rae's Creek in front of the green with a 4-wood. Twenty years later, Tiger Woods hit into the same creek with his putter.
Jeff Maggert once made a 2. Tommy Nakajima had a 13.
On the one occasion slow play was compelling, Nick Faldo languished over his second shot in 1996 until finally deciding on a 2-iron that he put onto the green for a birdie that carried him to a third green jacket. Three years later, David Duval took just as much time, had just as much indecision, and then hit 5-iron into the water for a bogey that cost him a shot at the Masters.
"The best par 5 in the world," Strange said.
"Certainly the best short par 5 in the world," Geoff Ogilvy said. "It's a beautiful hole. You can make 7 and smell the flowers along the way."
One thing is certain. There's nothing boring about it.
The 13th measures only 510 yards. In the last seven years, 10 holes at the majors have had par 4s longer than that. It traditionally plays as the second-easiest hole at Augusta.
No other par 5 on the course produced more birdies last year. No other par 5 produced more bogeys.
"We've seen through the years some amazing shots, and we've seen some shockers," Ian Poulter said. "There's no right or wrong way to play it."
Bubba Watson showed that last year with a tee shot that became the signature moment of his Masters victory. Swinging from the heels with his pink driver, the ball started more left than he wanted and was moving in that direction. His shoulders slumped ever so slight. This looked like trouble.
Until he heard the cheers.
The ball flew so far over and through the trees that it came out on the fairway, leaving him a sand wedge to the green.
"It was a shot that could have gone the wrong way fast," Watson said. "When you lose the ball over the trees, that's when you get nervous because you can't see it. When you hear the roar of a crowd, you can breathe again. When you hear a roar on a tee shot, you know you've done good."
Adding to the excitement is its place on the golf course.
The 13th is the last of three holes that make up Amen Corner. And in some respects, it's the starting point for Sunday charges on the back nine. This really is where the fun begins. Once the players get through the par-3 12th hole, they have a pair of par 5s (13th and 15th) sandwiched around the 14th hole with a Sunday pin position that can set up for a birdie.
The tee box is the quietest place on the course, tucked up on a hill behind the 12th green, some 200 yards from the nearest spectator. That's where Rory McIlroy sought solace during his Masters meltdown in 2011 — right before he hooked his tee shot into the bushes.
Rae's Creek winds its way down the left side before a tributary cuts in front of the green, mounding on both sides of the bank. The water is shallow enough that a shot can bounce off the rocks and out of the creek, or players can try to splash out of the water and onto the green.
The hole ideally sets up for a right-to-left tee shot with a severe slope from the right, and that's what causes so many problems. From the fairway, players can have anything from a fairway metal to a mid-iron to reach the green, except that their feet are well below the ball. It looks like the shot has to move to the left because of the stance. It just doesn't always work out that way.
"It's an optical illusion on the second shot," Ogilvy said. "It's uphill, but it looks downhill. It plays a fraction longer than you want it to. The stance you have wants you to hit a draw. But if you miss a shot with the ball above your feet, it's often to the right. And that's where all the trouble is."
That's what Strange found out in 1985 when he had a two-shot lead on Sunday, 218 yards to the hole and a 4-wood in his hand. It came up short and bounded into the creek. He tried playing from the water and didn't make it up the hill, eventually taking a bogey. He finished two back of Bernhard Langer.
"I hung it out to the right because of the lie," Strange said. "People don't know that yes, the ball is above your feet, but you're also hitting on a downslope, and your tendency is to hit it right because you hang onto it to make sure you hit it solidly. It took me years to figure that out."
And by then it was too late. That was his best chance at a green jacket.
Woods has played the 13th in a combined 44-under par, and only three times did he make bogey or worse. One of those bogeys was in the first round of 2005, when he rapped his 70-foot putt so hard that it raced by down the slope, past the hole, off the green and into the green. He put another ball down and two-putted for 6.
The bridge that goes over Rae's Creek from the tee box is named after Byron Nelson, for it was on the 13th hole in 1937 that he made an eagle that carried him to his first Masters title. He was tied with Ralph Guldahl when Nelson decided to hit a 3-wood to the green.
He wrote in his autobiography, "I said to myself, 'The Lord hates a coward,' and I simply tried to make sure my ball didn't go off to the right and into the water." It came up just left of the green, and Lord Byron chipped in for 3.
For such a short par 5, it demands big shots.