BOBBY JONES was a visionary in founding the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. And in crafting the course design with Alister MacKenzie, Jones, the club’s president in perpetuity, hit on the formula that has defined strategy since the first Masters in 1934. At the National, it’s about the par-5s and what you make of them that decides the championship. 

 “Our overall aim at Augusta National was to provide a golf course of considerable natural beauty, enjoyable for the average golfer and at the same time testing for the expert player striving to better par,” Jones once wrote. “We want to make the bogeys easy, if frankly sought, pars readily obtainable by standard good play and birdies, except on par-5s, dearly bought.”

Note the qualifier on birdies—except on par-5s.

Clearly, Jones wanted the course, under championship condition, to be about playing for par on 14 holes and going for broke on four of them. It’s how almost every winner has negotiated the course for 72 holes and it’s certainly how defending champion Bubba Watson has won twice—last year and in 2012.

Watson, consistently the longest hitter on the PGA Tour since his rookie year in 2006, has played in the Masters six times, for a total of 24 rounds. His learning curve has been relatively short, tying for 20th as a Masters rookie in 2008 and making the cut in all six starts.

He quickly realized what would win: chopping up the par-5s and doing as little damage as possible to himself on the par-3s and par-4s. There is no better example of what Jones was saying and what Watson did than in 2014.

When Watson defeated Jonas Blixt and Jordan Spieth by three shots at 8-under-par 280, he played Nos. 2, 8, 13 and 15 at 8-under. Obviously, he played the other 14 holes at even par. In 2012, he also played the par-5s at 8-under and was 2-under on the rest of the holes.

Watson averaged 4.62 at Nos. 2 and 8 and 4.37 at Nos. 13 and 15 in the two tournaments he won. For his career, he’s shown the same amazing consistency in playing those holes, averaging 4.71 at Nos. 2 and 8, 4.37 at No. 13 and 4.21 at No. 15.

The lefty from Bagdad, Fla., and the University of Georgia has a scoring average of 71.79 in 24 rounds. He averages 4.5 on the par-5 holes, which means he’s picking up two strokes each round on those holes.

Watson, for his prodigious length, doesn’t eagle the par-5 holes at Augusta as much as some might think. He’s made six in his career, all but one on the second nine. His first eagle at No. 2 came in the third round last year and he’s yet to eagle No. 8.

Watson has two eagles at the 13th and three at the 15th. But he has only one in either of his two victories and has been content to hit greens in two and safely two-putt, or get up-and-down with his vivid imagination and chip-and-putt for birdie.

However, Watson is evolving as a player at Augusta National and on the PGA Tour overall. While it’s obvious that his physical skills all but demand a constant attack on par-5 holes, his upward trend of success on the Tour and at the Masters has coincided with an improvement on the par-3s and par-4s.

Watson is 5-under on Augusta’s par-3 holes in his two victories and only 4-over at par-4 holes (he’s 16-under on the par-5s). But his overall improvement had a farther reach than two weeks in April.

The 2014 season was arguably Watson’s best overall, with two titles (he also won the Northern Trust Open) and a career-best top-10 finishes with eight. He matched his second-best percentage of making cuts (18-of-21, .857). υ

In the process, Watson was 5-under for the season on par-3 holes (26 shots better than his previous best) and 4-over on par-4 holes (his second-best career mark).

Watson actually had a career-low percentage of birdies or eagles coming on par-5 holes of .337 (109-of-289), but he was seventh in scoring average on the PGA Tour (69.97).

In Watson’s first two full seasons on Tour, he came close to making half of his birdies at par-5 holes (.448 in 2006 and .445 in 2007). He did that again in 2009 (.447).

As he’s gained more experience, Watson has maintained roughly the same number of par-5 birdies, never making less than 104 (2011) and peaking at 140 (2008). But he’s made more birdies at par-3s and par-4s.

In the past three seasons, Watson has missed only nine cuts and finished among the top-10 18 times. In the three seasons before that, he missed 20 cuts and had nine top-10s.

Translated, Watson is playing more complete rounds, not just focusing his attention on the par-5s.

“I think I scratched the surface a little bit last year,” he said in November at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, before winning the tournament in his first 2014-2015 start. “I still had my hiccups, still had my bad moments….I believe I’m always learning. I think I’ve just scratched the surface and, if I keep grinding away, I can improve a lot.”

The funny thing is that for all of Watson’s success at Augusta National, he’s not the best in a given field at playing the par-5s. Watson entered the 2014 tournament 42nd in the field in scoring average at No. 2 and 24th at No. 8.

The second-nine par-5s, however, continue to be his best friends. He was fourth in the 2014 field in scoring average at No. 13 and second at No. 15.

Watson’s trend is to use his spectacular play at the second-nine par-5s to ignite or continue hot streaks. In 2014, Watson birdied Nos. 13 and 15 among a streak of five in a row in the second round. In 2012, he made his move to the playoff with Louis Oosthuizen with a streak of four birdies in a row, including Nos. 14 and 16.

In five of his eight rounds at Augusta National during the 2012 and 2014 championship tournaments, Watson birdied both 13 and 15.

However, there’s little doubt that Watson will always be a threat at Augusta because of the par-5 holes. Regardless of how well he plays the other 14, the red numbers he posts on the four other holes will likely make the difference in winning or losing.

1

Tea Olive

Par 4 • 455 yards

How Bubba plays it:

He’s never gotten off to a quick start on this hole and has only three career birdies. His stroke average is 4.17.

2

Pink Dogwood

Par 5 • 575 yards

How Bubba plays it:

For all intents and purposes, a Masters round starts for Watson as this downhill hole. He made his first eagle ever at the hole in the third round last year and has a 4.71 average.

3

Flowering Peach

Par 4 • 350 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Very smart. He’s resisted the temptation to hit risky tee shots at the shortest par-4 on the course, even when the club moves the tees up. Watson averages 3.92, with only four bogeys.

4

Flowering Crab Apple

How Bubba plays it:

Watson also doesn’t tempt fate by going flag hunting at this long and most difficult of the par-3 holes at Augusta. He has only two birdies in his Masters career, but only four bogeys. Most players would take his average of 3.08 over the balance of 24 rounds.

5

Magnolia

Par 4 • 455 yards

How Bubba plays it:

The hole has given him fits in the past, but his learning curve ever on the upswing, he made four safe pars in 2014. Watson averages 4.33 but in his two victories, he’s played the hole 1-over.

6

Juniper

Par 3 • 180 yards

How Bubba plays it:

His scoring average, 2.96, indicates Watson loves the downhill hole. The tricky green, which requires players to feed shots into slopes to trickle to the hole, plays to his creativity. Watson is 2-under at the hole during his two victories.

7

Pampas

Par 4 •450 yards

How Bubba plays it:

In his first four Masters starts,  Watson made seven bogeys and was 6-over. In his two victories, he’s even-par on the hole, one more indication of how a player with the reputation as a gunslinger actually picks and chooses his risks carefully at Augusta.

8

Yellow Jasmine

Par • 570 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Just okay and it’s the only par-5 on the course that Watson has made a double-bogey. He’s 7-under (4.71) and has only nine birdies. But his ninth, last year, was the third of four birdies in six holes that turned the tide of the final round.

9

Carolina Cherry

Par 4  460 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Watson gives this hole the respect it deserves and doesn’t flirt with the trees on the right. He’s only made six bogeys, averaging 4.08. His birdie on Sunday last year enabled him to coast through the second nine.

10

Carolina Cherry

Par 4 • 495 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Aside from making his sensational par in a playoff to win in 2012, Watson has hit fairway and green for the most part, averaging 4.04 with only three birdies, four bogeys and 18 pars—counting the biggest par of his life.

11

White Dogwood

Par 4 • 505 yards

How Bubba plays it:

This has been the par-4 that eats Watson’s lunch for him, with five bogeys, one double-bogey and only one birdie in six Augusta starts. In an effort to avoid trouble to the left, he’s gone too far right on occasion. But the hole gives everyone trouble and four pars in last year’s tournament was huge.

12

Golden Bell

Par 3 • 155 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Last year’s tournament was a bit of an aberration, as Watson had three pars and a birdie. Prior to 2014, he was 9-over, his worst score in relation to par on any hole at Augusta, and made one of only two triple bogeys in the Masters.

13

Azalea

Par 5 • 510 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Now he’s cooking with gas. Watson loves the draw off the tee and it resulted in three birdies last year and a 15-under-par showing for his Masters career. He averages 4.37.

14

Chinese Fir

Par 4 • 440 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Aside from the third hole, this is the only other par-4 on the course where Watson is even-par or better for his career. Watson has done a good job of making sure his attention doesn’t lapse on this hole. Between the two par-5s on the second nine and twice during his two victories, he’s birdied all three in succession.

15

Firethorn

Par 5 • 530 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Or rather, he plays with it. Watson’s scoring average of 4.21 and 19-under par at the 15th are his best performances on any single hole at Augusta and he has three of his six par-5 eagles here.

16

Redbud

Par 3 • 170 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Like No. 6, Watson enjoys the challenge of using the slopes of the green to feed the ball close to the hole. His 2.92 stroke average is his best on a par-3 hole at Augusta and he has only three bogeys in his career.

17

Nandina

Par 4 • 440 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Early in his career, not too well. But during his two victories, Watson has not bogeyed the hole and has played  it 1-under, averaging 4.21.

18

Holly

Par 4 • 465 yards

How Bubba plays it:

Watson is 4-over for his career at the finishing hole (4.17) but is even-par in the years he’s won. The tee shot sets up perfectly for his draw and helps him avoid the bunkers on the left.

This article appears in the Masters 2015 issue of Augusta Magazine.