Without much doubt, Amen Corner is the most exciting stretch in golf.
Holes 11, 12 and 13 at Augusta National have been responsible for some of the most dramatic moments in Masters history. The swirling winds, ominous hazards and tricky flag placements can bring even the steeliest of golfers to their knees.
So, how have past champions made it through unscathed? And what sets them apart from the unfortunate few who have seen their Masters dreams snatched away in an instant?
11th – White Dogwood, Par-4, 505 yards
The 11th tee, above, is the first of two blind drives on Amen Corner. The sheer narrowness of the tee shot is enough to make your chest tighten. The fairway cambers from right to left, flattening as you move around the corner. A dogleg from left to right, It’s one of the few tee shots at Augusta that suits a power fade.
As soon as the ball goes above the trees, the wind direction can change, making it very difficult to commit to your line. If the ball drifts left or right, it's in the trees and a pitch out will likely follow.
The approach, below, is more of a mathematical exercise than a golf shot. The green is 40 feet below the fairway, and your eye is drawn to nothing but the water on the left.
Come up short and the ball can bounce off the slope and into the water. Go long and you’re left with one of the fastest putts on the course. In fact, it has often been said that if you hit the green with your approach into 11, then you've pulled it.
There is plenty of room for bailing out to the right but the chip back up towards the flag leaves little margin for error. Misjudge the strike and the water is waiting.
Dustin Johnson was six-under for the week around Amen Corner when he won in 2020 (four shots better than Bryson Dechambeau). Having birdied all three holes during his second round, and dropping no shots there all week, it’s fair to say he ‘mastered’ that stretch.
Johnson averages 313 yards off the tee – the eighth longest on tour – and he’s comfortable with a fade. If you need one piped down the 11th fairway, the two-time major champ is the most qualified player in the field to do it. And on the Sunday in 2020, he did exactly that.
Holding a two-shot lead over Cameron Smith, Johnson positioned himself on the right side of the tee and aimed down the left. Without hesitation, he clobbered his ball 300 yards down the right side of the fairway, leaving a perfect angle into the green. After bailing out to the right of the green, he chipped his ball to four feet and casually brushed it in for par.
Ray Floyd and Nick Faldo, below, found themselves on the 11th tee during their second play-off hole of the 1990 Masters. After routine pars on ten, Floyd split the fairway on 11, with Faldo following suit.
From this position, the percentage play would be to find the middle of the green and two-putt for par. Alternatively, play for the bailout on the right and take a chance with the wedge.
Nine-time major champ, Ben Hogan, preferred the latter. "If you ever see me on the 11th green in two, you'll know I missed my second shot." he said.
Floyd, who was 25 yards behind Faldo, took the aggressive line and tried to play for the flag. The decision may have been influenced by the fact that Faldo, below, had made birdie from the same position the previous year, beating Scott Hoch in a play-off.
Floyd hit a double-cross. His dreams of a second Green Jacket were dashed as Faldo found the middle of the green and two-putted to victory.
No.12 – Golden Bell, Par-3, 155 yards
This is one of the most pure par-3s in tournament golf.
It’s a modest distance but requires complete precision and commitment. As the players approach the tee, above, they’re met by a wall of enthusiastic patrons.
Between player and flag is ‘Raes Creek’, a 60-foot body of water that sits in wait for any shots that come up short. Go long and you’re either facing a slick greenside bunker or a chip shot from a precarious lie of pine needles.
With a 150-yard shot, the light should be green. As long as the hole isn't cut in an usually tough spot, an elite player will always go at the flag - but not at Augusta's No.12. With Golden Bell, above, you’re better going for bronze and placing the ball in the widest part of the green. The Sunday pin is middle right, so the front left bunker won't come to your rescue if you're short.
During Tiger Woods' comeback win in 2019, he showcased years of experience by playing for the wider part of the green. Just moments earlier, Francesco Molinari, below, misjudged his tee shot and came up short, squandering a two-shot lead.
Woods would hit his 8-iron straight over the front bunker and two-putted for par. Playing for the centre of the green ensures that a pulled or pushed tee shot will pitch on dry land (as long as the strike is clean).
In 2016, Jordan Spieth aimed just left of the flag and struck what looked like a promising approach. The ball landed ten feet short and hit the roll-off area into the creek.
He dropped what would be his third shot, below, around 60 yards from the flag, only to chunk it into the water again. His second drop would sail over the green, eventually resulting in a quadruple-bogey. The Texan would lose his one-shot lead, never to recover.
Having won the 2015 Masters, Spieth seemed to have a grasp on what it takes to play Augusta without encountering disasters like the one on 12. But there was both a wake-up call and a valuable lesson to be had.
During a post-round interview that year, he said he needs to "just stay committed... 12 is a 150‑yard shot and I feel I can bleed it next to the hole, and it's a stock 9‑iron for me... But that hole for whatever reason just has people's number. Stay committed behind the bunker."
13th – Azalea, Par – 5, 510 yards
At 510 yards - only marginally longer than most modern par-4s on the PGA Tour – this should be a straightforward birdie for most in the field.
It's the one part of Amen Corner that provides hope. The fairway doglegs from right to left, with Rae's Creek running parallel to the left rough. The green, below, is surrounded by four large bunkers to the left, with the creek continuing around the front of the green.
The hard deliberations start with the tee shot. Cutting the corner takes around a 280-yard carry to find the fairway. This is the ideal spot for taking the green on, leaving nothing more than mid iron for the approach. Some of the shorter hitters may fire it straight down the fairway to the corner, still leaving a good chance to take on the green.
In 2014, Bubba Watson hit a blistering tee shot to the flat part of the fairway. Although this wasn't the left-hander's intended line, it highlighted the benefits of having a big drive in your bag when you're trying to make headway at Augusta.
"I'm not very smart, but I can tell it hit some trees, because that's not the line I really wanted to go on," said Bubba. "I've been lucky enough to play here many years ago and I've hit wedge to that hole a few times. Today, I hit 56‑degree sand wedge in there."
He would knock it on the green and two-putt for birdie.
In 2020, Bryson DeChambeau famously said he was "looking at Augusta as a par-67 because I can reach all the par-5s in two, no problem”. He wasn't wrong. The extra yards he found off the tee were more than enough to shorten his approach shots to nothing more than a mid to short iron.
But one of the worst things anyone can do in golf is predict. Muhammad Ali was one of the best at predicting his performances, but even he got it wrong. And his target was moving; Bryson's wasn't.
The 2020 US Open champ teed up his ball on the Thursday and sent it sailing into the middle of the trees on the right-hand side. With an eye for finding the green, he attempted to thread his ball through two trees, only to watch it disappear into the bushes.
His provisional would then find the water. Moments later, he found himself up to his neck in Azaleas, trying to find his original approach. He eventually dropped out, duffed his chip and walked off with a double-bogey seven.
Amen Corner offers little hope but lots of drama, excitement and unpredictability.
Say your prayers and hope the golf Gods are listening.