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Masters 13th hole goes from relative gimme to hardest par 5

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The 13th hole at Masters went from the easiest of the four par 5s a year ago to the most difficult in Thursday’s first round following modifications at Augusta National.

“I birdied it today, so I didn’t not like it today,” defending Masters champion Scottie Scheffler said with a laugh.

Augusta National Golf Club went to great lengths to add a little toughness to what has been a relative gimme for the world’s top players.

The modifications withstood the first test.

There were three eagles, 36 birdies, 33 pars, 11 bogeys and three double bogeys or worse at the hole on Thursday for an average score of 4.721.

“I feel like it takes a little bit of the decision-making out just because before, the difference between an OK drive and a good drive wasn’t too drastic,” Scheffler said. “Now if I hit an OK drive, I’m probably laying up. If I hit a great drive, I’m probably going for it. So that makes the decision a little bit easier.”

The 13th got a new look after years of negotiations, a land acquisition deal and millions of dollars. The tee box was moved back 35 yards to make the hole more challenging — forcing players to choose between going for the glory as they have in the past or laying up.

Now, 35 yards may not sound like very far but Augusta National Golf Club went to great lengths to make it happen.

Augusta National needed a land acquisition six years ago from neighboring Augusta Country Club — close in name and location but not connected in any way — to get started.

To make it happen, Augusta National needed to acquire the ninth hole of Augusta Country Club, something they’ve wanted to do for years. The cost of the land purchase has never been made public, although Golfweek reported in 2016 it would be upward of $25 million. It also meant Augusta National having to foot the bill to relocate and rebuild the country club’s former ninth hole.

But they felt it was needed.

Masters Chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday the modifications will help “restore the element of risk and reward” that was intended in the original design of the hole.

The tee box is nestled between trees, rows of flowers and a rock wall in what is a picturesque scene on a hill. The change increases the overall distance of the hole to 545 yards — more in line with par 5s at other major tournaments — because there hadn’t been much risk for players.

In fact, players have feasted on No. 13.

Tiger Woods is 58-under par for his career on the hole nicknamed “Azalea.” Phil Mickelson is 82 under, including a birdie on Thursday.

The hope was that the added length would mean fewer golfers will be able to shape their drives around the trees on the left side of the dogleg, thus setting up a longer and more difficult second shot — creating a potentially perplexing dilemma on whether to go for the green or lay up.

The need for a change became evident in the final round of the 2014 Masters, when the left-handed Bubba Watson cut his drive around the trees and was left with a simple 150-yard wedge over Rae’s Creek to the hole. Watson easily found the green and made a two-putt birdie en route to winning his second green jacket.

That type of scenario is unlikely to unfold this week, particularly given the rain in the forecast which will only make the hole play longer.

Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele are among several golfers who said they planned to lay up all week rather than going for the green.

But some big hitters went for it on Thursday with Tom Kim, Justin Rose and Chris Kirk all making eagle after attacking the green with their second shot.

For better or worse, the gambling nature of how players approach the 13th hole led to many major momentum swings in past Masters. Whether the modifications will impact the drama — particularly on Sunday — remains to be seen.

Ridley said, if anything, it’ll only add to the intrigue.

“I look forward on Sunday to having someone in competition with a 3- or 4-iron in their hand or even a hybrid hitting their shot into the 13th hole rather than an 8-iron,” Ridley said. “I think on balance it’s going to prove to be the right decision.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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