Why Augusta National might also be a third-shot golf course, and why that favors Hideki Matsuyama

Why Augusta National might also be a third-shot golf course, and why that favors Hideki Matsuyama
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta National Golf Club is widely respected as one of the premier approach tests in golf. The more a player finds the iconic, Alister Mackenzie layout’s undulating putting surfaces in regulation, usually the better, as all but one of the past 12 Masters champions ranked among the best seven in greens hit.

But don’t sleep on short game, either.

Fifteen of the last 17 champions were top 10 in scrambling for the week, which bodes well for players such as Hideki Matsuyama, who leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained around-the-green this year.

“My goal is always to hit every green, but there are certain holes that are more difficult, and I’m going to miss greens,” said Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters winner who ranked second in the field in scrambling that week. “So, that aspect of my game hopefully will help me this week when I do hit that off iron shot into the green.”

Peter Malnati enters his first Masters ranked No. 13 on Tour in scrambling this season. Though he’s not had the opportunity to accustom himself to every blade of grass around each of Augusta National’s 18 greens like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, Malnati knows a stellar short-game week will take “creativity and vision.”

“A lot of times you’re not playing shots directly to the hole, you’re playing shots off of slopes,” Malnati said, “so, I think that’s something that having grown up at a little municipal course with no driving range, I was always hitting chip shots, I was always playing off little slopes. I think I just have some imagination for that.”

There’s more, too, Malnati says: “Then also you’ve got to make incredibly crisp contact. The turf here is absolutely perfect, but it’s fairly tight. There’s not a lot of grain because it’s just super healthy overseed, but you just have to be really precise with your contact, which is something that if you mis-hit a pitch and you don’t get the spin on it that you want, you’re going to look silly around the greens.”

Xander Schauffele, No. 8 in strokes gained around-the-green and No. 15 in scrambling, has noticed the many nuances of chipping on this hallowed turf.

“When you’re hitting these little bumps, you can hit the same spot, like you can put a quarter down and have your ball hit the same spot, but if it doesn’t have the exact ball speed it won’t get up the hill, but you still hit the quarter every time, so, it’s like you’re hitting your spot but not with the right speed,” Schauffele explained. “That’s something that you don’t really think of a lot when you play other courses where you can hit a stock shot and the ball will roll to where it rolls.”

Mid-amateur Stewart Hagestad, now playing in his third Masters, thinks about the importance of short game at this tournament differently. In his mind, it’s hard to scramble well if you are missing greens on the wrong side.

“I would say maybe leaving it in the right spots because there’s certain places you can hit it and you can’t go to within 15, 20 feet,” Hagestad said. “Let me use an example: If you go right on 16, there’s just nothing you can do, right? Or if you go long on 17 and the pin’s back right, there’s nothing you can do. So, I think thinking your way around the golf course, which is a really tough thing to put a statistic on.

“Like if you look at some of the guys who have won here, it’s really elite golf IQ guys that think really well around the golf course and are able to kind of play their game, be really into what they’re doing, but at the same time, think better than everyone.”

Scrambling ranks of last 17 Masters champs

2023 – Jon Rahm (1)
2022 – Scottie Scheffler (T-2)
2021 – Hideki Matsuyama (2)
2020 – Dustin Johnson (4)
2019 – Tiger Woods (T-50)
2018 – Patrick Reed (T-16)
2017 – Sergio Garcia (T-6)
2016 – Danny Willett (1)
2015 – Jordan Spieth (T-10)
2014 – Bubba Watson (5)
2013 – Adam Scott (3)
2012 – Bubba Watson (2)
2011 – Charl Schwartzel (2)
2010 – Phil Mickelson (T-3)
2009 – Angel Cabrera (T-7)
2008 – Trevor Immelman (1)
2007 – Zach Johnson (4)

PGA Tour leaders in scrambling who are in Masters field

Denny McCarthy (2)
Zach Johnson (5)
Justin Rose (6)
Scottie Scheffler (8)
Russell Henley (11)
Peter Malnati (13)
Xander Schauffele (15)
Max Homa (16)
Hideki Matsuyama (17)

PGA Tour leaders in strokes gained around-the-green who are in Masters field

Hideki Matsuyama (1)
Scottie Scheffler (5)
Lucas Glover (7)
Xander Schauffele (8)
Jason Day (9)
Si Woo Kim (18)

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