Why we love watching the Masters

No matter the leaderboard, Augusta National never disappoints.
Dramatic moments like Rory McIlroy's hole-out on the 18th hole in the final round of the 2022 Masters do not happen by accident. They happen because Augusta National Golf Club sets up its course to maximize the potential for heroic shotmaking.

From beginning to end, Scottie Scheffler was in complete control at the 2022 Masters. He tied a tournament record for the largest 36-hole lead at 8-under, five strokes clear of any chasers.

No matter. We still tuned in to watch the weekend action. Watching the pros wrestling with Augusta National's timeless and mesmerizing layout never disappoints. Scheffler, the world's hottest No. 1 since Tiger's dominant run, rarely blinked, but there were so many spectacular - and heartbreaking - shots from others that it wasn't worth changing the channel.

Stewart Cink's ace. Rory and Morikawa's back-to-back bunker bombs on 18. Cam Smith's trainwreck at Amen Corner. The joyous reactions from the players and roars from the crowd feed our emotions. We can feel the adrenaline, even from our couches. What a start to the majors. Even if you can't agree that Augusta is the best tournament course in the world, we can confidently proclaim that it is the most entertaining. Here's why:

Augusta National's greens steal the show every year

Scenery, bunkering and water features are fine, but greens are the platform on which the greatest golf courses build their reputations. Augusta National is exciting not because of Rae’s Creek, but because of the greens. Variety in putting surface size, shape and contour are crucial to holding the interest of everyday players as well as testing the skills of the very best when tournament time comes.

Because of the flattening nature of still photography and video, it can be hard to tell just how good a course’s greens are from afar. But Augusta National defies this rule with contours that are so pronounced that they threaten to jump off the screen at you. Shedding features like the massive false fronts of the 5th and 14th holes cannot be ignored, but it’s the gathering contours that make watching approach and greenside shots so relentlessly interesting every year at the Masters.

The members of Augusta National know this, which is why, after a few early-week teases (like Stewart Cink's ace at 16 on Friday), every Masters Sunday treats the field and the audience to a course full of opportunity, with nine traditional final-round hole locations – at holes 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 13, 14, 16, 18 – set in spots where a ball can feed off slopes close to or into the cup. This decision to set so many accessible hole locations directly leads to the most exciting sort of golf we saw on Sunday, like Rory McIlroy’s incredible pitch on the 14th hole and his ecstatic hole-out from the greenside bunker on 18.

Of all the aspects of Augusta National that other courses desperately try to copy, a willingness to give golfers a chance to watch a ball track close to the cup should be near the top of the list. Instead, many courses punish golfers with borderline-crazy hole locations seemingly designed to make rounds take as long as possible and harass people into finding somewhere else to play. It makes no sense.

Because Augusta National gets the hole locations right every year for the final round of the Masters, millions of viewers around the world are treated to a reliably exciting viewing experience, no matter the ultimate outcome of the tournament.

Short yet so deadly

In the final round of the 2022 tournament, Cameron Smith became the latest in a long line of golfers to see their chances to win the Masters sink to the bottom of Rae's Creek at the par-3 12th hole.

Augusta National lengthened several holes heading into the tournament. Per usual, it was the shortest hole on the course that had the biggest impact. No. 12, the heart of Amen Corner named "Golden Bell", only plays 155 yards.

Smith stepped to the tee on Sunday brimming with possibility after a birdie on the tough 11th. His attempted charge sank in Rae's Creek with an ugly 9 iron that was a borderline shank. Smith joins a long list of competitors who lost the tournament on No. 12: Palmer in 1959, Norman in 1996, Rocco in 2006, Spieth in 2016 and Molinari in 2019.

"Just a really bad swing at the wrong time," he said. "It was actually a really good number. It was a really nice 9-iron. Wasn't even trying to go near that pin, and, yeah, just a really poor swing."

It was another painful lesson in architecture 101. Length doesn't matter in the face of quality hole design, coupled with wind and the back-nine pressures of a major. There's just nowhere to miss on no. 12. Golfers have to trust their swing and club selection, something even the best players in the world can struggle to do.

What did you love about the 2022 Masters? Let us know in the comments below.

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Commented on

I love the drama and creativity of the actual golfers. Bank shots,
false fronts, and tee shots are pretty intense.

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Why we love watching the Masters