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Augusta National layout gives Masters a lean to the left

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If you've played the new Masters video game, you might somewhat understand. Aerial flyovers of the Augusta National course might provide a hint. More rare is the small number of folks who have actually played the course itself and can grasp the concept more concretely.

The parade of contending players who have donned the green jacket of late offer some compelling evidence, too.

An interesting proposition has slowly taken root among Augusta aficionados, launched by a guy who has obviously given the notion some serious cogitation. PGA Tour veteran Paul Goydos, a former high-school teacher, was the first to espouse the theory that the most famous golf course in the world almost certainly favors a certain subset of player.

Bubba Watson is a contender to join the list of lefty winners at Augusta. (Getty Images)  
Bubba Watson is a contender to join the list of lefty winners at Augusta. (Getty Images)  
Not plinkers and dinkers, bombers and gougers, or even Cablinasians, per se. The more Goydos explained his notion, like a math problem being diagrammed on the blackboard, the more the light bulb glowed for his listener.

"I really think Augusta National favors left-handed players," Goydos said.

This is one of those inside-baseball stories that perhaps only true devotees can appreciate, but since it relates to the most photographed track in the game, where every blade of grass is subject to commentary and scrutiny, it's sure to generate some interesting water-cooler discussion.

Wondering why four of the past eight Masters Tournaments have been won by lefties? It's because Goydos' somewhat radical theory seems more unerring than the 59 he shot last summer.

It took Phil Mickelson, the defending Masters champion, all of two seconds to begin nodding his head affirmatively when the Goydos notion was presented.

"He is absolutely right," Mickelson said.

It's not just that Mickelson has won three green jackets, and Mike Weir another, since 2003. Lefty Steve Flesch had a couple of top-6 finishes in the same stretch, which is downright impressive given that the field usually includes perhaps three or four southpaws annually.

The crux of the thesis is indisputable -- for players of any level or batting stance, lefty or righty, it's easier to hit a slice than a hook. For a left-hander, a controlled fade off the tee mostly fits the Augusta design as comfortably as the fitted green jacket they place over the winner's shoulders.

"I think there are a number of shots there where it is definitely advantageous for a left-hander's shot dispersion, where the misses fit the course," said Mickelson, who dabbles in course design and loves talking about this type of stuff.

All things being equal, and assuming a lefty can fade the ball, several crucial holes, especially in Amen Corner, play right into his hands, pardon the pun. If not against the ideal shot pattern demanded of a right-hander, a draw.

"It depends what shot shape is most comfortable," Tiger Woods said. "You don't have to hook the ball as much as people think, but you do have to turn it over for a righty. You're going to have to move the ball from right to left."

In terms of swipes, it's easier to hit a "wipe," which is what tour players sometimes call a fade. Another port-sided favorite this week, the rapidly improving Bubba Watson, immediately endorsed Mickelson's sentiments, too.

"I can see exactly what he means," said Watson, who has twice played the Masters. "If you are a left-hander and you can't cut it, it's tough."

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Mickelson and Watson can cut it by any definition of the phrase. Augusta doesn't just offer several dogleg holes that suit a left-hander's cut shot, but two key green designs at Nos. 12 and 13, where it's far more forgiving to be hitting lefty approaches.

Take it away, Dr. Phil.

"Difficult holes, like No. 12, are harder for right-handers whose shot dispersion is either long and left or short and right," said Mickelson, the comprehensive favorite this week. "Long and left for them is going over the green and short-right is in the water."

Envision the famed 12th hole's design: The creek and green slant diagonally away from the player lower-left to upper-right.

"Whereas a left-handed player, if I aim for the middle of the green and miss it a little and it goes short-left, it catches the green," Mickelson explained. "If I pull it, it goes long and right and I can get at that right pin."

As evidence, Mickelson noted that he birdied the 12th with the back-right pin placement en route to victory last year and in 2004. The 13th, a sharp dogleg to the left, offers a big advantage to those who can bend a drive around the elbow.

"It's so much easier to carve a slice than to time a hook," Mickelson said.

That's hardly a huge revelation, of course. But few have ever noticed that the green complex at the 13th favors a left-hander, too. The creek fronting the green runs at the same diagonal as on No. 12. A weak push for a lefty stays dry, unlike for a righty, where it splashes in the water.

But perhaps the biggest edge can be found on the tee, where Nos. 2, 5, 9, 10, 13 and 14 generally favor a cut from a left-handed player.

To bolster the argument, consider the historical evidence. Left-handers have won four times at Augusta, all starting with Weir in '03. That total is double the number of left-handed victories at the other three majors, combined, over the arc of the game. In fact, Phil is the only lefty to have won a PGA Championship, and none has won the U.S. Open.

Of course, Jack Nicklaus is right-handed and played a predominant fade, and he won the Masters a record six times, including 25 years ago at age 46. Mickelson pointed out that the 16th at Augusta sets up all wrong for him, because it's a mirror image of the 12th in design.

"That's always been the hardest hole on the course for me," he said.

The 18th, which takes a hard right turn, isn't any easier. Mickelson usually tries to bomb a straight 3-wood into the corner and hopes for the best.

Arguably and ideally, it's best to be a lefty armed with all the shots.

"I try to move it both ways [at Augusta]," Mickelson said. "I feel like for me to play well there, I have to be able to do that."

None of this is to suggest that winning is easy for left-handers at the top of their game.

But, perhaps, just a tiny bit easier.

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