AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP)Dustin Johnson makes it sound easy because he’s good enough that a lot of shots feel that way. He also recognizes that the par-3 sixth hole at Augusta National was among the most critical when he won the Masters.
Staked to a four-shot lead going into the final round in November, he three-putted from just off the front of the green on No. 4, and he made another bogey on the next hole by missing from 7 feet. Just like that, his lead was down to one.
Then he headed over to No. 6, known as Augusta National as ”Juniper.”
”I know I made two bogeys, but it wasn’t like I made a really bad bogey,” he said. ”It didn’t bother me. I knew I was swinging well and rolling it good. I just needed to stay patient.”
The pin was on the upper shelf to the right, a slight breeze behind him. Johnson chose 8-iron to 6 feet.
”I just had to judge the distance right,” he said. ”I hit a good shot in there and made a really good putt. That gave me the confidence I needed for the rest of the day. That was a really big hole.”
The par-3 sixth hole has delivered its share of big moments.
That’s where Nick Faldo made birdie and began his unlikely rally to beat Greg Norman in 1996. It’s where Billy Joe Patton made a hole-in-one with a 5-iron in the final round of 1954 when he was trying to become the first amateur to win a green jacket. He missed by one shot joining a playoff between Ben Hogan and Sam Snead.
For all the changes Augusta National has made over the years, it hasn’t messed with the par 3s for close to a half-century. The exception was lengthening No. 3.
”I think the sixth hole is a pretty extreme hole,” Adam Scott said. ”You couldn’t build that green anywhere today and get away with it. No one would be happy about it. But it fits in fine.”
The hole plays 180 yards, straight down to a large green with three tiers, and significant slopes defining the tiers. Jordan Spieth says it can feel like two different holes.
”Those right pins, you sit there saying that 3 is a good score. The left pins, you feel like you should have a good look at birdie,” he said. ”You feel like you’ve lost half a shot making par to two of the pins and you’ve gained half a shot on the other two.”
The hole hasn’t always looked that way. It originally had a pond in front of the green. Augusta National had that filled in after the 1959 Masters. The only significant change since then was in 1975, when the teeing ground was widened.
It ranks as the 13th-toughest hole, the easiest among the par 3s. It doesn’t always feel that way when the pin is on the top right shelf on Sunday, which is what made Johnson’s shot all the more impressive. Sungjae Im went over the back of the green playing with him in the final group, chipped short of the pin and missed the par putt, a two-shot swing.
”For every 10 good iron shots I’ve hit at that top shelf, I’ve probably only had three or four balls stop on it,” Jim Furyk once said. ”It’s probably only about eight yards by seven yards, at the most. A lot of that isn’t useable, because if you hit it on the back, it’s going to go over. You’re hitting to a very small area, but most guys will take a pop at it.
”If you miss it a little long, I’d rather have that chip or putt from back there.”
There are worse places to be than long. Branden Grace watched his chip roll back down the ridge toward his feet on consecutive shots on his way to a 7 in 2016, one of three quadruple bogeys on that hole.
The back left pin is no picnic. Matt Kuchar said the safe shot short of the hole will roll back to 40 feet, and he’s happy to take two putts and walk off the green with a par. The front left pin, with the slope feeding balls down toward the cup, is the best birdie chance.
”Most of the time, middle of that green is typical for most pins, leaving you with a challenging 40-foot putt,” Kuchar said. ”You do your best to just two-putt and get out of there with a 3.”
More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports