Tiger Takes the Masters After Rae's Creek Claims a Few More Souls
AUGUSTA, Ga. — At the far southern edge of the course, nestled between two fairytale bridges and split by Rae’s Creek, Augusta National’s 12th hole may be its most picturesque. A short, 155-yard par-3 coined Golden Bell, it’s all green and pink and shimmer, a painting brought to life at the heart of the soul-rendering stretch of golf this magazine first coined “Amen Corner” in 1958.
In the second minute after the eight o’clock hour Sunday, as early-morning threesomes who’d teed off on No. 10 made their way down the 11th fairway, the sound of bells carried over the little three-hole valley, no doubt from a church somewhere nearby in Augusta—a church whose god might not have been quite so harsh as the one governing No. 12 that afternoon. As it has so many times before, the ghastly hole changed the bearing of the tournament, and in the name of the water, and of the wind, and of the right-side pin placement, it won the thing for Tiger Woods.
As Woods, Tony Finau and Francesco Molinari finished No. 11 with three pars, the trio sat at the top of Sunday’s leaderboard. Molinari’s score was lowest, at –13, and though he’d suffered his first bogey since Thursday four holes earlier, he was still calm and collected. Woods was two strokes off his lead, Finau three. If anyone was going to make a move, it had to be soon.
Molinari had already birdied No. 12 twice this week, on Friday and Saturday. He had every reason to be confident as he pulled his 8-iron from his bag. Every reason—except he’d been just a few yards away, on the 11th green, as Ian Poulter and Brooks Koepka watched their tee shots plop into the creek. Both men took double bogeys on the hole. Only the third player in the group, Webb Simpson, had eked out par.
And then the creek claimed Molinari’s ball, Finau’s too. Both needed two putts after chipping from the drop area. Meanwhile, Woods played the whole thing perfectly. In 1990, when Rick Reilly wrote about the perils of Golden Bell for a pre-Masters issue of Sports Illustrated, he’d shared Jack Nicklaus’s rule for the hole. His advice: If the pin is on the right, hit for the middle of the long, impossibly narrow green and make par. On Sunday, the pin was right, and that’s exactly what Woods did.
“We had the door open on 12,” Finau said. “That was the change of the tournament. … It's just a tough shot. Even Tiger hit it exactly where he was looking and he was 45 feet from the hole. It's a tough hole and when you're playing into the wind and under the conditions we were in, it's a hard shot.”
The Woods-Molinari-Finau threesome had been able to pay close enough attention to the group before it to see what clubs each golfer had chosen. Finau noted that Koepka and Poulter both hit 9-irons into the water—but he still went with the same club, and his shot landed almost exactly where theirs had. Molinari picked his 8-iron with the same result, leading Finau to hypothesize that the number they needed “was right in between all of our clubs.” Woods, though, had better calculations. For one, he said, he knew Koepka is stronger than he is and better at fighting the wind—which by then had picked up enough to impact play—and Koepka’s shot had laid up short. That justified his choice of an 8-iron. He committed to hitting the ball 150 yards, slightly over the lip of the bunker he had meaured at 147. It was the right choice.
There were buzzier holes at the Masters this year. The extended No. 5 was a beast; the long par-4 yielded 103 bogeys (including four from Tiger) and six double-bogeys. On Sunday, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas aced No. 16, and a few hours later, Woods came close to doing the same. But No. 12, which has barely changed since Amen Corner was named, since Reilly probed its tricks, is familiar. Woods changed the tournament, and won it, with something utterly unspectacular on paper: a conservative par.
Woods’s score on the hole was identical all weekend: 3, 3, 3, 3. Every day but Thursday, he simply found the green and putted twice, long division as others attempted calculus. After playing here for 20-plus years, he knows better than to do too much, how to avoid doing too little; over the course of his career, he’s averaged 3.14 strokes on No. 12. In 2019, the tournament average was 3.05 strokes there, but on Sunday, conditions were especially brutal as winds kicked up. Two golfers, Corey Conners and J.B. Holmes, took six shots. Seven double-bogeyed, including four of the last six men to play the hole, and another eight players bogeyed.
Rae’s Creek has seen worse reflected into its mirror of a surface than this year’s slip-ups. In 2016, Jordan Spieth shot a quadruple bogey during the collapse that saw him cede his chance as a second consecutive Masters win. In 1980, Tom Weiskopf hit a 7-iron into the creek, which then claimed four more of his sand wedge shots. By the time he escaped, he’d made a 13. These stories have added to the hole’s canon, and Woods knows them by heart. Everyone at Augusta does. Some days, at some moments, there’s no combination of club choice and aim and eye that can save a golfer. It wasn’t quite so bad on Sunday, but Woods didn’t need theatrics or disaster. There was no prayer, no curse. “I just said,” Woods recalled, “keep plodding along.”
The was no fist pump on No. 12, no roar. Those are neither the motions nor the soundtrack of Amen Corner. That came later, after Woods plodded along, held on, and left the corner with his soul intact.