Augusta National Golf Club produces many classic risk-reward shots, perhaps none more well-known than the approach on No. 15.
The 15th hole is a 530-yard par-5, the last of four on the course and, historically, the best chance for birdie on the final stretch.
It ranks as the easiest hole in Augusta National history at 4.78, and entering Sunday’s final round it was the easiest this year. The hole had the second-most birdies for the week, at 114, and tied for second-fewest bogeys with No. 2 at 31.
Despite the numbers, No. 15 is capable of swallowing golf balls in the pond that protects the front of the green. Jim Furyk bogeyed the hole Saturday after his second shot, with a hybrid, failed to clear the water.
The pond was enlarged in 1961 after previously running as a stream. It has become one of the more famous settings on the course, with grandstands surrounding the green. Patrons produce a nervous buzz as approach shots of more than 200 yards fly toward the pond and green.
“The second shot is the toughest,” said Billy Horschel, who eagled on Saturday. “The right bunker is really never a bad spot to be to any of those pins. Over the green could be a little tougher, depending upon what pin you’re hitting to.
“I think if you can hit a good shot and put it on the green, the majority of the time it’s an easy two-putt. It’s nothing too tricky about the green.”
The hole is home to the most famous shot in Masters history. Gene Sarazen made double eagle in 1935 with a 4-wood from 235 yards.
Known as the “shot heard ’round the world,” Sarazen’s double eagle put him in a tie with Craig Wood. Sarazen beat Wood in a 36-hole playoff the next day.
No. 15 became more closely associated with Sarazen’s shot when the Gene Sarazen Bridge was dedicated on the hole in 1955.
The 15th hole, known as Firethorn, had pine trees added to both sides of the fairway in 1999. The tees were moved back 25-30 yards and shifted about 20 yards left in 2006.
The recent changes require a more accurate tee shot to go for the green in two. A drive slightly off to either side can cause a golfer to lay up, because the pine trees interfere with the sides of the fairways.
“If you don’t hit a good drive, then you obviously just lay up,” said Bill Haas, who birdied the hole twice this week. “If you do hit a good drive, then it’s all about the wind and picking the right wind direction so you make sure you don’t go over. Obviously, short is no good, either.”