It was Jordan Spieth’s fearlessness in discussing what had just gone wrong for him which illustrated precisely what Rory McIlroy will be up against here.
The 21-year American’s putting had gone haywire out there under the pines, and here he was talking all about it at his last pre-Masters press conference. “Well, I’d like to say I feel comfortable, but each putt I’ve hit so far in the practice round, I’ve hit at least eight feet by; whether it’s a four-footer or an 18-footer or a putt across the green. I’m underestimating them right now. I need to just get that down. That can be worked on, on the practice green. I feel comfortable with the amount of break needed to be played…”
This kind of discussion is about as far removed from McIlroy as you are likely to find. If his own putting had disintegrated – and it is an aspect of his game that might be tested beyond breaking in the four days ahead – then you would not find him disclosing it at a press conference, let alone laughing it away.
Masters 2016 - Augusta National hole-by-hole guide
Masters 2016 - Augusta National hole-by-hole guide
1/18 1st (Tea Olive), 445 yards, par four
deep bunker on the right of the fairway and trees both sides make for a daunting start, while long and left of the undulating green both spell big trouble. Unsurprisingly played the hardest hole on the course in 2012 and ranked second in 2013.
2015 average: 4.23 (rank 4)
2/18 2nd (Pink Dogwood), 575 yards, par five
Driving into the trees on the left cost Padraig Harrington a nine in 2009, but Louis Oosthuizen memorably holed his second shot for an albatross in the final round in 2012 before losing in a play-off to Bubba Watson. An important early birdie chance.
2015 average: 4.61 (rank 16)
3/18 3rd (Flowering Peach), 350 yards, par four
Shortest par four on the course but a pear-shaped green with steep slope in front allows for some wicked pin positions. Charl Schwartzel pitched in for eagle in the final round en route to title in 2011.
2015 average: 3.95 (rank 14)
4/18 4th (Flowering Crab Apple), 240 yards, par three
The back tee - not always used - turns it into a beast with the green sloping from back to front. Phil Mickelson took six here in the final round in 2012 and finished two shots outside the play-off. Jeff Sluman's ace in 1992 remains the only hole-in-one here in Masters history.
2015 average: 3.29 (rank 2)
5/18 5th (Magnolia), 455 yards, par four
Jack Nicklaus twice holed his second shot in 1995 and Colin Montgomerie did it in 2000, but it is another devilishly difficult green. To clear the fairway bunkers requires a 315-yard carry.
2015 average: 4.14 (rank 8)
6/18 6th (Juniper), 180 yards, par three
From a high tee to a green with a huge slope in it. Five holes-in-one - including Jamie Donaldson in 2013 - but Jose Maria Olazabal took seven in 1991 and lost by one to Ian Woosnam, while Arnold Palmer has also run up a seven.
2015 average: 3.08 (rank T10)
7/18 7th (Pampas), 450 yards, par four
What used to be a real birdie chance has been lengthened by 35-40 yards, while trees were also added and the putting surface reshaped. More bunkers - five - around the green than any other hole.
2015 average: 4.24 (rank 3)
8/18 8th (Yellow Jasmine), 570 yards, par five
The bunker on the right, about 300 yards out, pushes players left and from there it is harder to find the green in two up the steep hill. Still a good birdie chance and Bruce Devlin made an albatross two in 1967.
2015 average: 4.65 (rank 15)
9/18 9th (Carolina Cherry), 460 yards, par four
The tee was pushed back 30 yards in 2002. The raised green, with two bunkers on the left, tilts sharply from the back and anything rolling off the front can continue down for 50-60 yards.
2015 average: 4.08 (rank T10)
10/18 10th (Camellia), 495 yards, par four
A huge drop from tee to green on this dogleg left and over all the years of the Masters the most difficult hole. It was here that Rory McIlroy began to fall apart in 2011 with a seven, while Watson clinched the title in 2012 by making par in the play-off from the trees.
2015 average: 4.16 (rank 6)
11/18 11th (White Dogwood), 505 yards, par four
The start of Amen Corner. Toughest hole in 2011, 2014 and 2015, with the water front and left scaring many. Best remembered for Larry Mize's chip-in in 1987 and Nick Faldo's back-to-back play-off wins.
2015 average: 4.32 (rank 1)
12/18 12th (Golden Bell), 155 yards, par three
Probably the most famous par three in golf. Narrow target, water in front, trouble at the back, it has seen everything from a one to Tom Weiskopf's 13 in 1980. McIlroy four-putted it in 2011.
2015 average: 3.12 (rank 9)
13/18 13th (Azalea), 510 yards, par five
The end of Amen Corner. Massive dogleg left with scores ranging from Jeff Maggert's albatross two in 1994 to Tommy Nakajima's 13 in 1978. Bubba Watson's enormous drive here in 2014 left him with just a sand wedge into the green to set up a birdie.
2015 average: 4.54 (rank 18)
14/18 14th (Chinese Fir), 440 yards, par four
The only hole on the course without a bunker, but three putts are common on the wickedly difficult green. Course record holder Nick Price took eight here in 1993, while Phil Mickelson holed his approach en route to 2010 victory.
2015 average: 4.08 (rank 12)
15/18 15th (Firethorn), 530 yards, par five
Often a tough decision whether to go for the green in two across the pond on the hole where Gene Sarazen sank his 235-yard four-wood shot for an albatross in 1935. There have also been three 11s here.
2015 average: 4.60 (rank 17)
16/18 16th (Redbud), 170 yards, par three
Tiger Woods' memorable chip-in in 2005 came the same year as 73-year-old Billy Casper's 14, while Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter are among 15 players to record holes-in-one.
2015 average: 3.01 (rank 13)
17/18 17th (Nandina), 440 yards, par four
The famous Eisenhower Tree has been removed after suffering storm damage, making for an easier tee shot on the hole Justin Rose double-bogeyed when one off the lead in 2007. Jack Nicklaus birdied here to take the lead as he won his 18th major in 1986.
2015 average: 4.15 (rank 7)
18/18 18th (Holly), 465 yards, par four
The drive through an avenue of trees was made much harder when the tee was moved back 60 yards in 2002. The fairway bunker from which Sandy Lyle got up and down to win in 1988 is now 300 yards away.
2015 average: 4.21 (rank 5)
But that is the way Spieth seems to be made. He is in possession of an iron self-assurance – though it is not bombast – further fortified after the narrow play-off defeat to J B Holmes in the Shell Houston Open last week. His last three starts have given him first, second and second finishes. There is a real sense that we are about to observe the McIlroy v Spieth show.
His mentor and fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw – or “Mr Crenshaw”, as Spieth described him when discussing the 63-year-old – defined him best. “I think one of the really wonderful things that I really do like about him, he’s got competitive fire,” Crenshaw said. “You can see it. I think he carries that off in a great fashion. He doesn’t go out of hand, but he just seems to be moving forward in the game. You know, when I first met him, I tell you, I’ll never forget it. I looked right at him and he looked at me and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp.”
There was something of the Woods about the way Spieth barked at the spectator whose camera or phone he suggested had distracted him in the play-off at Houston – though he later acknowledged that his failure to come through was of his own doing.
Spieth’s position as a favourite is, of course, borne of the way he almost accomplished one of the greatest wins in Masters history last year, leading by two strokes after 54 holes before Bubba Watson’s masterclass prevented him breaking Tiger Woods’ record as the youngest Augusta champion. It fell apart for him at the eighth hole on the Sunday last year, and here he described the detailed work he had done back there.
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Spieth’s press conference included a memorable discussion of whether he might have been in nappies when Woods won the Masters in 1997. “I can’t confirm that. I’m embarrassed; I just came out of [nappies] a couple years ago. So I probably was,” he replied, deadpan.
When McIlroy had sat down to talk in the same seat an hour earlier, it had been anything but this sense of a man holding court. The Northern Irishman looked subdued; so subdued that you wondered if some calamity with the putter had just befallen him.
There would have been no way of telling. When the miasma of fascination with Woods falls away and the golf finally begins, Spieth looks like the one most ready to extend the European drought into a 16th year.
“He has things together,” Crenshaw said. “I’m sure it has struck all of you that he’s way mature beyond his years. He has an innate ability to score. He hits the ball definitely far enough. He does things.”
Eisenhower Tree set to return to 17th hole
The famous Eisenhower Tree that used to be on the 17th hole at Augusta National could return.
The 65ft loblolly pine was around 210 yards from the tee on the left-hand side of the par-four hole and named after former President Dwight D Eisenhower, who hit it so often that he asked, unsuccessfully, for it to be removed.
It was eventually removed in February last year after suffering serious damage in an ice storm, but Augusta chairman Billy Payne has hinted that a new version is being developed after two grafts and a seedling from the original were preserved.Reuse content