Spieth: Augusta National's 12th 'just has people's number'

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- They all have a name, none less appropriate than the one given to the shortest, yet most diabolical hole on the course. Golden Bell? Well, how about Golden Hell?

The par-3 12th at Augusta National is pretty, for sure. It sits at the end of the property, at the convergence of holes known as Amen Corner. The competitors in the Masters walk across the Hogan Bridge to get to the green, where the setting is almost serene, peaceful.

But all who have played it and especially those who must endure the crucible of Masters pressure know it is anything but tranquil. The tricky winds, the narrow green, Rae's Creek ... add it all up and what you get is angst.

Jordan Spieth was still wondering what happened as the sun sunk beneath the clouds on Sunday night. He played the final hole like a dead man walking and endured not one, but two excruciating green jacket ceremonies when the symbol of a Masters victory that he had seemingly wrapped up was passed to Danny Willett.

And then he tried to explain it, specifically the tee shot into the water, followed by a chunked approach from the drop zone that led to a quadruple-bogey 7 and ultimately a tie for second instead of another victory at the Masters.

"It was really one swing,'' a somber Spieth said afterward, referring to the 9-iron shot that should seemingly be so simple but is made treacherous through indecision and pressure. "That hole, for whatever reason, just has people's number.''

No doubt. Ask Greg Norman, who 20 years ago saw his Masters dreams swallowed up in Rae's Creek for good when his tee shot went at the flag -- always on the right side on Sunday, always the wrong place to aim -- but landed short and rolled agonizingly back into the water.

Tom Weiskopf made a 13 there in 1980, recording the highest score ever shot on the hole; Arnold Palmer saw a chance to win a second straight green jacket get wet in 1959 when he couldn't clear the water (it was also the hole of a controversial ruling in 1958 which helped him win his first green jacket). Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson made a 10 on the 12th in 2013.

Jack Nicklaus has referred to the 12th, just 155 yards on the scorecard, as the toughest short hole in the world. "No. 12 was always uncomfortable to play,'' the Golden Bear said.

Spieth certainly was feeling uneasy when he stepped to the 12th tee. He was seemingly in control just 30 minutes earlier, holding a 5-shot lead standing on the 10th tee. Bogeys at the 10th and 11th holes did not have him all that concerned, as he still led by 1 over Willett, who had birdied the 13th and 14th.

"We were still right on pace,'' Spieth said. "I just didn't take that extra breath. And I remember getting over the ball thinking I'm going to go ahead and hit a little cut to the hole, and that's what I did in 2014 and it cost me the tournament then, too.

"That was the right club, just the wrong shot. I was more comfortable hitting a draw with my irons. I knew every time I played a fade this week, that shot kind of came out. The swing just wasn't quite there to produce the right ball flight.''

Smylie Kaufman, a longtime friend of Spieth's who played with him in the final round, said "it stunk to watch it. It looked like he just came out of it a little bit. There were a couple of swings where he just came out of it a little today.''

And yet, as it played out, the shot after he took a drop could have salvaged the situation. "Why can't you just control the second shot?'' he said. "Make a 5 at worst?''

Had that happened, perhaps Spieth doesn't press to make a birdie at the 17th hole and gets himself into a playoff with Willett.

But after dropping 80 yards from the hole behind the drop zone, Spieth hit the shot fat and into the water again. He then hit his fifth shot after another drop into the back bunker, from where he got up and down for a quadruple-bogey 7.

"I'm not sure what happened on that next shot,'' he said. "I just hit it fat.''

The 12th hole has yielded just three aces in 80 Masters, the last by Curtis Strange in 1988. Historically, it has played as the third-hardest hole on the course, surpassed by only Nos. 10 and 11. On Sunday it was the second-hardest of the day, playing to an average of 3.368. For the week, it ranked seventh most difficult, yielding just 28 birdies.

Considering all the bad fortune at the hole, Fred Couples' tee shot in 1992 still defies belief. It hit on the bank and was headed for the water -- then stopped. Couples managed to get up and down for par and went on to victory.

Most have not enjoyed such a fate.

"Anything can happen around Amen Corner,'' said Lee Westwood, who tied for second with Spieth, 3 strokes behind Willett. "There's a fine line between disaster and success at this place and it happened to Jordan.''

Golden Hell, indeed.