AUGUSTA — Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. All three are Masters champions, and all three are joined by a pair of holes that have a habit of deciding the green jacket.
In fact, the shots those three men took on the 15th and 16th holes at Augusta National were recently selected as three of the top five shots in the history of the tournament in an Associated Press article. Sarazen had a double eagle on No. 15, a par 5, to move into a tie for the lead with Craig Wood and eventually won in a playoff in 1935. Nicklaus eagled the 15th and famously birdied the par-3 16th on his way to the championship in 1986. Woods did his sponsors a favor in 2005 when his ball rested – logo toward the camera – on the lip of the cup at No. 16 before falling in for a chip-in birdie and beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff.
Roanne Barron of Tampa, Fla., was in the stands beside the 15th green, facing the 16th tee box, on Saturday and said she and her husband Tom often come to the pair of holes toward the south end of the course. They’ve been attending the Masters since they were selected in the limited lottery in 2004 to receive patron’s badges, and Roanne said it’s that likelihood of big shots that draws them to the area.
“I love 15,” she said. “It’s an eagle hole, and you’ve got a good look at 16.”
Miriam James of Jefferson County, Ga., said that being in that location gives her a good idea of what each golfer is doing. From being in the stands between the two holes, she can see if golfers are going to be in contention or not, she said.
“It’s a pretty good spot to know where the standings are,” she said.
Saturday’s round provided drama of both kinds, even if the eagles were limited. The only one came from Nick Watney, who sent a slow-moving putt from the fringe behind the sloping green that trickled into the hole and brought the patrons to their feet.
“I made it from just off the back, which you just want to try to two-putt it,” Watney said, estimating the length of the putt at 35 feet on the 530-yard hole. “So for it to go in was a bonus.”
Other golfers had chances at eagle putts but saw them go off line. Woods dropped in perhaps the best second-shot approach of the day, setting himself up for a 9-foot putt for an eagle that would have moved him to 4-under for the day. He missed but made his birdie to go to 3-under, where he finished to end up four back of leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera.
Both of the 54-hole leaders birdied at least one of the pair on Saturday. Snedeker had an eagle try on No. 15 that missed well right, but he made his birdie and stuck his tee shot close to the pin on the 170-yard 16th for a birdie to move to 7-under.
Snedeker recognized that the loud cheers his back-to-back birdies elicited were a rare commodity on set of pin placements throughout the course that he characterized as tough but traditional.
“It was a very quiet day out there,” he said. “I didn’t hear a lot of roars.”
Cabrera three-putted for par on No. 15 before matching Snedeker’s accuracy on No. 16 for a birdie of his own.
If recent history is any indication, the two-hole stretch will continue to be a factor in today’s final round. In the last dozen Masters, only one champion has been over-par between the two holes on Sunday – Trevor Immelman in 2008. He double bogeyed No. 16 that year.
Even Zach Johnson, who won with a remarkably high 1-over total for the tournament in 2007, birdied No. 16 on Sunday. The trend has gotten even more drastic in recent years, with three of the last four champions getting birdies on both holes on Sunday – Phil Mickelson birdied only No. 15 on Sunday in 2010.
Defending champion Bubba Watson practically rode the pair of holes into the playoff he won over Louis Oosthuizen. Not only did he birdie both holes on Sunday, but he was 5-under on those holes for the tournament, a healthy part of the 10-under effort that got him into the extra golf for the green jacket.
Patrons who watched the action in that part of the course got a taste of the drama they can likely expect today when the final groups came through on Saturday.
With Snedeker already gone with a share of the lead and Angel Cabrera making a late charge, co-leader Jason Day – who eventually bogeyed Nos. 17 and 18 to relinquish the top spot on the leaderboard – saw his second shot sail over the 15th green.
He chipped onto the green and missed his birdie putt to settle for par, and the gravity of what transpired in the last three groups of the day wasn’t lost on patrons like Bill Bratton of Dallas.
“What’s going on right now is why we come here,” he said.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.