There are few courses in the world that are more challenging or have more history than Augusta National.
The greatest golfers in history have strolled Magnolia Lane for the opportunity to wear a coveted green jacket, and this week the best the game has to offer will converge at the big oak tree for the same chance.
One of golf's most picturesque courses, but certainly as unforgiving as it is scenic, Augusta National has as many landmark holes as the nation’s capital does monuments.
The winner of this year’s Masters will certainly be tested, but as always, it will come down to who has the mental toughness to take everything this beautiful beast has to offer and come back for more the next day.
So what’s in store for this year’s Masters field?
Step into the lab and let the doctor diagnose each hole for you in order of difficulty and game plan.
15. Firethorn: Par Five, 530 yards
There is a bridge dedicated to Gene Sarazen at 15 where he made one of the most heralded shots in golf history. Sarazen holed out with a four-wood from 235 yards for a double eagle two in 1935, propelling him to his only green jacket.
Firethorn provides an opportunity to make up a shot after coming through “Amen Corner,” but accuracy is the key to doing so. The cluster of pines off the right side of the fairway is more mature this year, and if the field hopes to use 15 as a makeup hole, they are going to have to be straight off the tee.
Players that manage a solid tee shot can easily reach the green in two so long as the wind is favorable, but even those laying up will be tested on their wedge shot because of the pond that guards the front of the green and the bunker to the right.
2009 Average Score: 4.57
2009 Difficulty: 18th
13. Azalea: Par Five, 510 yards
Azalea gets its name from the 1,600 azaleas that line this hole from tee to green. As with most of the par five holes at Augusta, accuracy from the tee will determine how aggressively a player can attack this hole for score.
A tee shot to the center of the fairway allows a player to aim for the green in two. Anything off line will bring the tributary to Rae’s Creek that winds the front of the green and the four bunkers behind the putting surface into play.
2009 Average Score: 4.59
2009 Difficulty: 17th
2. Pink Dogwood: Par Five, 575 Yards
Pink Dogwood is a dogleg left that is reachable in two for the power hitters on tour. In order to do so, tee shots have to be kept to the left, avoiding the fairway bunker to the right.
While cutting the dogleg short gives a player the opportunity to go for the green in two, the downhill lie to the green can lead to a difficult approach shot if pin placement is in front, where it will be bordered by two deep bunkers.
2009 Average Score: 4.68
2009 Difficulty: 16th
8. Yellow Jasmine: Par Five, 570 yards
As with most of the par fives on this course, the accurate will prevail, and the long will score and do so often.
This particular hole is uphill all the way, but if players avoid the fairway bunker to the right, there is little to fear by way of bunkers around the green. Most players will try to avoid the mounding around the left side of the green in their approach.
2009 Average Score: 4.77
2009 Difficulty: 15th
3. Flowering Peach: Par Four, 350 Yards
The old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies to the shortest par four at Augusta National. One of the best par fours in golf, “Flowering Peach” has not changed in 28 years.
Most can reach the green or near it, but few players go for it because of the hazards surrounding the L-shaped green.
The best approach has been to play an iron off the tee in order to stay short of the four bunkers on the left side. This enables a better approach and setup for a birdie putt on a green that runs sharply from right to left.
2009 Average Score: 3.95
2009 Difficulty: 14th
14. Chinese Fir: Par Four, 440 Yards
While this is the only hole on the course without a bunker, the tree-lined fairway leads into one of the toughest greens on the course.
An accurate drive should give a player a short iron approach shot, but the severe undulation of the green will do everything in its power to funnel the ball to the right side of the green.
2009 Average Score: 3.98
2009 Difficulty: 13th
6. Juniper: Par Three, 180 Yards
Maybe they should rename this hole “three putt.” This par three features a large rise in green undulation on the right side, which can make getting it close off the tee a real ordeal.
Look for the gallery to fill the hillside under the elevated tee that looks down on the green. Those fans should see a few great shots on the day when the pin placement is front left.
2009 Average Score: 3.07
2009 Difficulty: 12th
16. Redbud: Par Three, 170 yards
The tee shot on 16 is completely over water into a green protected by three bunkers. The green bends to the left and famously features a Sunday pin placement that situates the pin between the front bunker and the pond right below the upper tier.
You may remember Tiger Woods' 2005 pitch shot that went up the ridge of this tiered green, pulled an “E-brake,” rolled back towards the hole, and sat on the lip for a few seconds before falling in.
This is a make or break hole on Sunday but is fairly manageable the three days leading up to it.
2009 Average Score: 3.09
2009 Difficulty: 11th
17. Nandina: Par Four, 440 yards
The tree that has famously become known as the “Eisenhower tree” stands tall and defiant as ever 210 yards down the left center of the fairway.
Former President Dwight Eisenhower, a former member of Augusta National, hit this particular tree with such regularity that he petitioned to have it removed.
The hole demands another accurate tee shot that leaves two bunkers between the player and the front of the green.
2009 Average Score: 4.09
2009 Difficulty: 10th
18. Holly: Par Four, 465 yards
The 18th at Augusta is one of the most difficult finishing holes in professional golf. An uphill dogleg right protected by two devastatingly deep bunkers at the left elbow, this tee shot is what champions are made of.
This is the only tee shot on the back nine where sand comes into play with the exception of par threes. With the sand in the left elbow, an arrant tee shot to the right will have to contend with the trees, forcing golfers to make an extremely accurate drive off the tee.
If successful, the uphill second shot will require a middle iron into a green that is protected by a bunker to the front and the right.
Par is more than respectable on 18, especially on the weekend.
2009 Average Score: 4.10
2009 Difficulty: Ninth
7. Pampas: Par Four, 450 yards
The par-four seventh has been extended over 130 yards over the years, 40 most recently. It now tees off through a row of pine trees onto a level fairway.
This hole can take the wind out your sails in a hurry if you’re not careful. While it looks straight, the narrow fairway gives way to a green surrounded by five bunkers. With three bunkers shielding the front of the green and two guarding the rear, this green can be treacherous if wind is a factor, and it usually is.
2009 Average Score: 4.11
2009 Difficulty: Eighth
5. Magnolia: Par Four, 455 Yards
Magnolia is an uphill slight dogleg left. The two deep bunkers protecting the left side are around 300 yards from the tee but could be trouble with a tail wind.
Once players reach the putting surface, the pin is always on the upper level of the front-sloping, double-tiered green, which makes runoff a serious threat. Look to see more than a few balls run into the trees when players underestimate this slippery slope.
2009 Average Score: 4.13
2009 Difficulty: Seventh
4. Flowering Crabapple: Par Three, 240 Yards
The longest par three on the course was extended even further this year. With ever changing winds, club selection becomes critical for players trying to make birdie on a hole protected by bunkers on either side.
Shorter-ranged players will have to club up in most cases to a fairway metal, making this hole a lot more difficult that ever before. With inconsistent wind conditions, accuracy will come into play for these players even more so than the long hitters, who should still be able to get there with a long iron.
2009 Average Score: 3.19
2009 Difficulty: Sixth
9. Carolina Cherry: Par Four, 460 yards
“Carolina Cherry” can be bittersweet. Best known for a green that’s sloped from back to front, approach shots that end up short often roll 25 yards back into the fairway.
Tee shots are often aimed to the right to take the two greenside bunkers to the left out of play.
2009 Average Score: 4.20
2009 Difficulty: Fifth
1. Tea Olive: Par Four, 445 Yards
The first at Augusta is a rude welcome to the Masters. The par four is an uphill dogleg right with a lot of tree action to the left off the tee.
A deep fairway bunker pushes for a 317-yard carry off the tee and should be avoided at all costs. Anything entering the front of the “yawning bunker” most likely will be blocked by the high lip on the green side.
Assuming a player avoids the pitfalls leading up to the green, they will have to deal with a bunker left of the green that falls off on the back and to the right.
2009 Average Score: 4.22
2009 Difficulty: Fourth
10. Camellia: Par Four, 495 yards
The 10th begins what is arguably the toughest three-hole stretch of golf in the majors. Historically the 10th has been the toughest hole at Augusta National, but it ranks third on this year’s list.
While a drive that catches the slope in the fairway can cause this hole to play a lot shorter than it really is, an errant tee shot right can leave a difficult second shot off a slanted lie.
With a green that slants from right to left, it is nearly impossible to scramble to save par from the bunker right of the green.
2009 Average Score: 4.24
2009 Difficulty: Third
12. Golden Bell: Par Three, 155 yards
The shortest hole at Augusta National is also one of the most famous par threes in golf.
The swirling winds are extremely difficult to gauge and can cause the tee shot to range from a six-iron to a nine-iron. Rae’s Creek and a bunker in front and two more behind the extremely narrow green can make this hole diabolical.
2009 Average Score: 3.30
2009 Difficulty: Second
11. White Dogwood: Par Four, 505 yards
Welcome to “Amen Corner,” the toughest hole on the course for the last several years running. Wind is often a factor and even more so this year, as a few pines have been removed and the hole has been lengthened by 15 yards.
The par-four 11th requires a long, accurate tee shot in order to reach the narrow landing area on the ridge in the middle of the fairway.
Look for a lot of players to lay up short and to the right of the green, where a pond stands guard to the left of the green, while an intimidating bunker is positioned to the back right.
All three of the sudden death playoffs in Masters history have been decided by this hole, and with the added length, there could be some added excitement at the “white dogwood” this year.
2009 Average Score: 4.33
2009 Difficulty: First
The field will have a few opportunities on the par fives to make up some ground if they can keep it in the short grass off the tee, but look for the congregation at Amen Corner to witness the history.
The man that can navigate his way through holes 10 to 12 without mental error will be around on Sunday. It is inevitable that mistakes will be made, but the man that can keep his composure when the pressure mounts will continue to have success this week in Augusta, Georgia.
Like most majors, the Masters requires complete accuracy. Augusta National is one of the most unforgiving courses in the world and will make you pay deeply for any indiscretion from the tee box.
While drive accuracy is the key to playing under-par golf at the Masters, it will be the ability to be consistent with the short game approaching the treacherous greens that will win a green jacket and a talk with Jim Nantz come Sunday afternoon.