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No. 12 remains unconquered

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The par-3 12th hole at Augusta National is pure architectural genius, and the relentless advancements in golf technology can neither lessen its challenge nor diminish its mystique.

The 12th has required no one come to its defense as golf balls started carrying farther, sailing truer and biting harder. There has been no need for Augusta's guardians to intervene and restore the hole's integrity, as they've had to do on many others.

The last significant change to No. 12 took place in 1951, when the green was expanded 18 feet to the right. Otherwise, the corner pocket of Amen Corner sits just as Dr. Alister Mackenzie designed it in the early 1930s, a lasting testament to his talent and vision.

The beauty of 12, aside from its breathtaking manicure, lies in its deceit. It might appear an 8-iron's the play when a club's pulled from the bag, seem like 7 or 9 at address, then make the striker wish he'd hit less or more when the ball's halfway to the hole, a mere 155 yards.

"You just hit it and hope there many times," two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw said after making bogey there Thursday.

A wind that meant business accompanied sun-up for the opening round of the Masters, which made No. 12 town square for anyone who watches NASCAR for the crashes. Upon completing the 11th hole, Billy Mayfair, in the lead group, began his preparations for 12 by plucking a few blades of grass and tossing them into the air. He repeated the act again as he neared the tee box, determined to read the unreadable.

The flag on 12 blew at the tee box while the flag on 11 flared in the opposite direction. As Mayfair visualized his shot the flag on 11 went limp. As he approached his ball the flag on 11 stiffened while the one on 12 went still. Both flags drooped as Mayfair made his address and, sure enough, his shot went long, settling on the back fringe.

Shortly after Mayfair's group departed the impact 12 would have on the day was foreshadowed by two hawks circling above the green. If they were hunting wounded animals they'd come to the right place. There'd be plenty.

Swede Niclas Fasth made double-bogey 5 after his tee shot found Rae's Creek. Amateur Casey Watabu, playing in the very next group, would have killed for a double. Last year's U.S. Public Links champ hit the upslope beyond the creek and watched his ball backtrack into the water. He dropped nearby and produced an instant replay. His fifth shot skittered off the back of the green. His sixth stopped, and mercifully so, landed on the front fringe, from where he two-putted for a Masters snowman that drained his enthusiasm.

"It just took everything out of me," said Watabu, who finished with an 87. "It was tough coming in after that."

The 12th hole at Augusta is renowned for playing mind games. Tom Weiskopf wrote down "13" in 1980, matching the highest score taken on any hole during Masters competition. Dow Finsterwald played No. 12 10-over in 1951, the highest four-round score on any hole in tournament history. Benign in appearance, No. 12 harbors malicious intent.

"It does," Watabu said. "Look at the pin and you think it's in your face or downwind and you look at the pin again and it's going the other way. You really got to commit to your shot and know what you're going to do."

There were 18 bogeys made at No. 12 Thursday, nine doubles and two "others," Japan's Hideto Tanihara joining Watabu in that category with a 6. The hole's scoring average was 3.354. It hasn't played that high for an entire Masters since 1994. And the tougher pin positions are still to come.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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