The par-3 12th is Augusta’s short little terror

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The shortest hole at Augusta National is in the heart of Amen Corner, 155 yards of sheer hell.

Jack Nicklaus called the tee shot on No. 12 the toughest on the entire golf course. When he shot 30 on the back nine in 1986 to win the Masters for the sixth time, that amazing charge featured one bogey. Guess which hole?

You bet. The one called Golden Bell.

“It is not necessarily impossible,” Ben Hogan once said. “It simply seems to require more skill than I have at the moment.”

More than skill, this par 3 requires a wing and a prayer.

A year ago, Angel Cabrera and K.J. Choi fell out of the lead by hitting over the green on No. 12 and making bogeys. Luke Donald fell from contention by hitting into Rae’s Creek short of the green.

As an example of the capricious wind pattern, Bob Rosburg hit 4-iron into a strong wind at the 1956 Masters, except the wind abated without warning and his ball sent off property onto adjacent Augusta Country Club. He reloaded, stayed with the 4-iron, and put it on the green for a two-putt double bogey.

That explains Tiger Woods‘ reply when asked if he ever felt comfortable standing on that tee.

“Absolutely,” Woods said. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”

After all these years, the wind still plays tricks in the minds of golf’s best players. Even when a player hits what he thinks is the perfect shot, with the right club, there is still an element of hope _ a quiet prayer _ until the ball comes back to earth.

For Fred Couples, it was sheer luck in 1992, perhaps the most famous moment on the hole. His shot came up short in the final round and was slowly rolling down the bank toward Rae’s Creek when it was held up blade of grass. He made par and went on to win the Masters.

Scott Verplank earned a spot in the Masters record book in 2003 as the only player to make birdie all four rounds. But what he said about the 12th hole a few years later still resonates today.

“No matter what happens with equipment, that hole will always be a delicate shot,” Verplank said. “It might be the toughest shot you ever hit. The margin of error is minute.”

The hole features an hourglass green that tilts diagonally away from the tee box. Just over Rae’s Creek is a deep bunker in the middle of the green. On either side of the sand, the bank is shaved so that balls tumble down into the water. There are two bunkers behind the green, from where players again are confronted with Rae’s Creek. Behind the bunkers is a beautiful garden where Greg Norman once lost a ball in the third round of 1999.

The trouble never ends.

“I’ve hit 6-iron to pitching wedge,” Padraig Harrington said. “The day I hit pitching wedge, it was 144 yards to carry the trap, and what I was doing hitting a pitching wedge, I don’t know. I hit it in the bunker. I was so worried about hitting in the bushes behind the green. Nowadays, I know I’m hitting 9-iron to 7-iron. But you’re always worried. It’s just a great golf hole.”

It’s all about the angle of the green, the vexing wind that feels as if it’s coming from every direction, and the fact the 12th hole is at the low point of the course _ 175 feet below the clubhouse, which is only 1,000 yards away.

“It would be a nothing hole if it was square,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “But the genius is the angle. The back edge of the left side of the green is shorter than the front edge of the right side. Where they got lucky was having that chute of trees on 13 because it really messes with the wind. Even if you’re into the wind, it seems to come down from the 13th fairway.”

The legend of that section of Amen Corner is that the flag on the 11th green can be blowing one direction, and the flag on the 12th can be blowing another. They are separated by about 100 yards.

Some players look at flags. Others look at the tops of the trees _ but which trees?

Hogan once famously said he would never pull the trigger until he felt the wind on his left cheek. Nicklaus said it was best to wait until the flags on the 11th and 12th were going in the same direction.

Tom Weiskopf is infamous for his performance at Golden Bell, where he rang up a 13 in 1980 by hitting five balls into the water.

There have been three aces on the 12th _ Claude Harmon in 1947, William Hyndman in 1959 and Curtis Strange in 1988. Those are the happier moments.

Strange was asked how he made his hole-in-one. “I pushed a 7-iron,” he said.

Far more common are the sad tales.

Payne Stewart hit 8-iron in the back bunker in 1985, and that’s where his troubles began. His sand shot rolled through the green and into the water. His next shot spun back and into the water. Fearful of repeating his mistake, he went long into the back bunker and eventually took a 9, which took him out of contention.

Dan Forsman was leading on Sunday in 1993 when he hit into Rae’s Creek and took an 8. “Next year, I think I’ll lay up short,” he said.

Jason Day made it through relatively unscathed in his first Masters.

“The biggest thing is not to be intimidated by it,” Day said. “Walking down the 11th, we’ll throw up grass and try to prepare for the 12th hole. You just have to get up there and trust it. There’s no real explanation for the wind there.”

Gary Player told Golf Digest magazine of his first time playing the 12th hole. He was with Hogan and Sam Snead, who had five green jackets between them. Hogan hit 7-iron into the back bunker. Snead decided on an 8-iron and put that in the water.

“That was a terrible way for me to have my first look at the 12th,” Player said. “They are two of the greatest strikers of the golf ball who ever lived, and you have one in the water and one over the green. I said, `Man, there must be something to this hole.’

“And of course, over the years, you realize it’s true.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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