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Fortunes can turn on 2 holes

Nos. 10 and 12 have ended the Masters hopes of many, including Tiger Woods last year.

[AP photo]
Tiger Woods smiles after his drive on the 8th tee during a practice round at the Augusta National Golf Club on Wednesday.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A victory would be grand, for sure. A Slam? That will remain a point of discussion for as long as Tiger Woods stays in contention at the Masters, where today he begins his quest to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive major championship.

But were it not for a couple of key miscues by Woods on opening day a year ago, we might be talking about his chance of defending the Masters title and winning all four major championships in one season -- for the second straight year.

A year ago, Woods finished fifth, six shots behind champion Vijay Singh. An opening-round 75 -- what would turn out to be his last above-par score of the season -- put him in a hole from which he could not emerge, even after shooting 68-69 on the weekend.

Woods can blame the 75 on two important holes on Augusta National's back nine, two that historically have played the most difficult in the Masters: the par-4 10th and the par-3 12th.

Woods played those holes a combined 5-over par in the opening round. Pars would have put him in the thick of the tournament.

"Who knows?" Woods said, smiling.

The problem is, making par is not simple.

If any player in the field were to stumble, the 10th and 12th holes are two logical bets for where that would occur. Since course statistics were first kept in 1942, the 10th ranks as the toughest hole at the Masters. The 12th is second toughest.

Television does not do the 10th hole justice. At 485 yards, it has the length of many par 5s. But it is almost entirely downhill, and players slingshot their drives down the fairway. Woods hit a 3-wood off the tee last year and had a 7-iron left to the green.

But players typically are faced with uneven lies, and Woods plugged his approach into a green-side bunker, had to play away from the pin, then three-putted for a double bogey. Greg Norman double-bogeyed the 10th in 1986, when he lost to Jack Nicklaus by a shot, and bogeyed it in 1996, when he squandered a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo.

"Here at Augusta National, it is a very penalizing course, even on a shot that would not seem very difficult," Phil Mickelson said.

The tee shot at No. 12 always seems difficult. The 155-yard, par-3 hole fronted by a slope that runs into Rae's Creek has a narrow green and causes plenty of consternation.

"It's no place to gamble," said six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, who has called it the toughest par 3 in the world. "There are places out here to take chances, but No. 12 isn't one. It comes down to whether you want to keep it in play or go for a 2 and come away with a 5."

Woods came away with a triple-bogey 6, although he wasn't doing anything bold. He hit an 8-iron and aimed at the left edge of the right bunker.

"I thought I hit a pretty good shot," he said. "You could see the wind stand the ball up."

It hit short of the green and rolled back into the water. Woods then wedged onto the green and three-putted.

"At 12 it's not a difficult shot when you are playing there in the practice rounds," Singh said. "But in the tournament, when you stand there and start thinking about it a little bit, it can seem like a 200-yard shot instead of a 150-yard shot."

The 12th has been the source of plenty of misery through the years. In 13 Masters it has ranked as the toughest hole on the course. Tom Weiskopf made 13 at the hole in 1980, and Arnold Palmer knocked his tee shot in the creek in 1959, costing him a chance at victory.

The 12th was probably the key hole in Singh's victory last year. He played it in 1-under par, birdieing it in brutal third-round conditions and saving par during the final round from the back bunker.

He also parred the 10th each of the four rounds.

Woods would love to have his swings back on those holes, but he doesn't spend much time dwelling on what could have been. His 68 in the third round that put him back in contention came early, when conditions were benign.

"Even though I (gave) myself a chance to win, I did get pretty fortunate on Saturday, to be able to go out before the bad weather came in, posted a good number and then watched those guys come back to me," Woods said. "If I had played better, I might have been out there in those conditions. Who knows?"

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