Tucked away on the far end of Augusta National is the toughest par 4 on the front nine.
For this Masters, it has become a little tougher.
The fifth hole, a slight dogleg to the left, was untouched for 30 years until the club extended the two bunkers left of the fairway some 80 yards toward the green to bring them into play. Fifteen years later, the championship tee was moved back some 40 yards, stretching the par 4 to 495 yards for this year’s Masters.
“Significantly different,” Brandt Snedeker said with just enough of a smile that “different” did not mean it was any easier. “It used to be a 3-wood for the long guys, then a short- to mid-iron. It was a par hole. You might make a few birdies. You’re not making a huge number there. But you’re hitting a lot longer clubs in. And that’s going to be a little different.”
Eddie Pepperell has never played the Masters, but he has heard enough about No. 5 to make one self-deprecating observation when he heard of the change.
“This is a real shame cause I was expecting the 5th hole to be a safe bogey,” Pepperell said on Twitter.
For years, No. 5 got plenty of respect and not enough attention.
The respect was understandable. The scoring average over the years of 4.26 was the highest of par 4s before making the turn.
“Make four pars there and you’re gaining two shots on the field,” Jordan Spieth said.
The lack of attention is all about location, the hole being somewhat isolated. For the well-connected, it’s the quickest way to get to Berckmans Place, the high-end hospitality area at the Masters. For others, it was a route to the par-3 sixth hole.
And for Jack Nicklaus, it was another occasion to get his name in the Masters record book.
Facing two of the more difficult pin positions, Nicklaus holed out for eagle twice — in the same tournament in 1995.
“The first day I hit a 7-iron,” Nicklaus said last month. “The pin was on the front knob. It’s impossible to get to it. I happened to hit it dead on the top of knob, it trickled over and went right in the hole. The third round, the pin was back right. Those were the two worse pins positions on the whole golf course. I hit a 5-iron and pushed it just slightly. It hit right on top, circles around and went right in the hole.”
“Five has always been a hole you’re not likely to make birdie on,” Nicklaus said. “How do I hit a good enough tee shot to be in a position to somehow stop it on the green?”
Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones patterned the hole after No. 17 at St. Andrews, the famous Road Hole, even though “Magnolia” has no road behind the green or any bunker in front of the green, not to mention a railway shed or a hotel.
The principle was the same — a tee shot as close to the trouble (the bunkers on No. 5), the better angle to the green that is guarded in the front by a slope some 5 feet high, making the green play smaller than it looks.
The bunkers are so deep that spectators on the right side of the fairway at times can’t see the player at all. And for players?
“I haven’t been in the bunker much, but I can’t get it on the green,” Dustin Johnson said. “You don’t want to hit it in the left bunker. You’ve got to hit a really good tee shot, and then another good shot to get on the green. You’re not ever really trying to hit close to the flag. Back right you can hit a good shot and get it close. But for the most part, the rest of them you can’t get it close.”
It’s a key part of the front nine. After a strong opening hole, players get a birdie chance on the par-5 second, a short par 4 at No. 3, and then the longest of the par 3s at No. 4. Get through No. 5, and four reasonable scoring chances follow.
It’s getting through that fifth hole.
“Hit it on the green, two-putt and you keep going,” Jon Rahm said. “It will be interesting to see how many people are under par. I’ve never hit it close. Nobody does.”
Except for Nicklaus, who hit it as close as anyone can twice in the same Masters.