Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 4/10/13
To understand The Masters tournament, you have to understand the man who founded it. Bob Jones was more than a sports hero. He was a Depression Era symbol of hope, a sliver of good news in a time when starvation was real and entire families lived under scrap-medal lean-tos in Central Park. In 1930, when Jones won all four of golf's major championships in a single year, a feat that remains unequaled, the unemployment rate was 17.4 percent, up from 3.3 percent just three years earlier; and the poverty rate, if such a thing had been measured at the time, would have included more than 50 percent of the population. Bleak and despondent, Americans found momentary solace in the sporting heroics of a remarkable southern gentleman. Before Jack Nicklaus was born, and in a time when Atlanta was a sleepy railroad town with parking meters on Peachtree Street, the citys most famous resident a handsome, charismatic, brilliant and often temperamental lawyer who never lowered himself to actual courtroom arguments retired from the sport he had dominated and retreated to the winter enclave of Augusta to build what would become his masterpiece: Augusta National Golf Club. Jones' legacy as a player was the reason the Masters began with such a bang, but his genius and attention to detail are the reasons it continues to thrill. Of the course he and Dr. Alister MacKenzie built, Jones said, "We want to make bogeys easy if frankly sought, pars readily obtainable by standard good play, and birdies, except on the par-fives, dearly bought. "Obviously, with a course as wide open as is needed to accommodate the average golfer, we need only tighten it up by increasing difficulty of play around the hole. This we attempt to do by placing the flags in more difficult and exacting positions and by increasing the speed of the greens." That design strategy has made the Masters the most compelling golf tournament in the world. Errant tee shots are penalized, but players can still recover. The greens are treacherous and so fast that players wake up on cold sweats thinking about downhill putts. And the par-fives are all reachable. Those holes, the par-fives, will ultimately decide the winner, not because they are brutally long, but because they're so temptingly short. All the par-fives can be reached in two, but danger lurks at every turn. The second hole can yield bogey or worse if you hit it left off the tee, but from the fairway you can make birdies, eagles or, in the case of Louis Oosthuizen last year, double-eagles. Eight also yields its fair share of low scores, but anything left can be a tournament killer. In 1999, Brandel Chamblee, now one of the sharpest golf analysts in the game, led the tournament when he reached No. 8 hole on Saturday. Then, he made the mistake of telling himself, "Im going to win the Masters." He hit his second shot left into the trees, made a bogey and never recovered, finishing the week tied for 18th. Today, Chamblee has one golf painting his home, a rendition of the eighth at Augusta National, which serves as a constant reminder of, in his words, "my stupidity at thinking I had a tournament won before the turn on Saturday." Of course, 13 and 15 have storied histories. Jack Nicklaus birdied 13 and eagled 15 in 1986, while Seve Ballesteros found the water at 15 that same year to hand Jack his sixth green jacket. A year prior, Curtis Strange led through 12 holes on Sunday and seemed to have the tournament in hand before pushing his second shot at 13 into Raes Creek to lose. And, of course, Phil Mickelson hit one of the greatest shots of his career from the pine trees on 13 in 2010 a laser that barely cleared the water and stopped three feet from the hole. If you want to know who to watch closely this week in Augusta, look at who's playing the par-fives well. Phil Mickelson is currently 10th on tour in par-five birdies. Jason Day is 12th, and Keegan Bradley is third. But the man leading the field in par-five birdies is ... Tiger Woods, who is 35-under on the long holes for the year. Of the last four Masters champions, all have been 9-under or better on the par-fives, a stat that would make Bobby Jones very happy, indeed. Roars come when players take chances, going for the par-fives in two and either reaping the rewards or suffering the consequences. This year will be no different. That is why Tiger Woods is so heavily favored. It is also why this Masters, like most of the others in recent memory, will likely provide the most thrilling golf of the year.
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