Since the Masters is the only major championship played annually at the same course, familiarity with the layout has always been a considerable advantage. In an interview late last month, Nick Faldo, a three-time Masters champion, said he thought the experience of playing in the tournament multiple times could be worth four to eight strokes across the four rounds of the event.
“Putts that appear to break two feet actually break eight feet, and a brilliant shot that lands one yard from the hole but on the wrong side of that hole ends up four yards over the green,” said Faldo, who will be an analyst for CBS at this year’s tournament. “Everybody tries to keep the ball below the hole, but when you’re 185 yards away that’s not always going to happen. So you better learn to be comfortable putting down slopes so steep your ball might roll back into the fairway. The mental strain you’re under is constant.”
Rory McIlroy, the world’s fifth-ranked player, said Augusta National’s challenges were so subtle they could not be explained but instead had to be experienced. The 14th hole, for example, is the only one on the property without a bunker, but its green is deceptively devilish.
“The putt up the hill on the 14th green is the slowest putt on the entire course,” said McIlroy, who added that few players realize how hard they must stroke the ball until they leave it 10 feet short of the hole two or three times.
Adding to the challenge this year will be a first: a Masters in November instead of in its traditional role as an April rite. Not surprisingly, Woods is one of the few leading players who has played multiple rounds at Augusta National in November.
“It’s been cold, the ball doesn’t go very far,” he said last month of those outings.
Also, from spring to fall, the prevailing wind tends to shift. “If you get the north wind that time of year,” Woods said, “it can be awfully difficult and long, and very different than what we normally play in April.”