Augusta beef-up 13th with extra yardage
Eighteen 'Saudi Tour' stars taking part
Long driving stats favour Rory
2023 Masters beckons
The green, green grass of Georgia beckons for golf's leading players who travel to Augusta National for this week's opening major of 2023.
Owing to a change in the golfing calendar in 2019, the four major championships are currently staged within a 15-week window.
It's been nearly nine months (37 weeks) since Aussie Cameron Smith won last year's Open Championship at St Andrews, but the first major of the season is now upon us and, as ever, it begins with The Masters.
Since Smith held aloft the Claret Jug in Scotland last July, the Saudi-based Tour has gained serious momentum - creating a huge division at the head of world golf.
Famous or infamous #13?
There's been one big change at Augusta too, with significant yardage added to the famous par-five 13th hole.
Augusta National management have consistently sought ways to fight back against the game's biggest hitters.
With the pros themselves becoming fitter and stronger year-by-year, combined with manufacturers who are always seeking ways to develop clubs that smack the ball longer distances, courses around the world have taken a hit.
What used to be a 'long par-four', can now be reached with a drive and a short iron, while even par-fives that measure close to 600 yards are often located with two hefty swipes.
The following PGA Tour stats reveal significant changes to driving distance averages through the decades.
Dan Pohl led the Tour stats in 1980 with an average of 274.3 yards which, nowadays, would leave you trailing outside the top 200.
In fact, at April 3rd, 2023, only one golfer (out of 209) on this season's PGA Tour Driving Distance standings is currently hitting the ball shorter distances than 'top of the class' Pohl did 43 years ago.
PGA Tour Driving Distance Leaders (yards)
2020: 322.1 (Bryson DeChambeau)
2010: 315.5 (Robert Garrigus)
2000: 301.4 (John Daly)
1990: 279.6 (Tom Purtzer)
1980: 274.3 (Dan Pohl)
And with Augusta officials desperate to limit the number of 64s, 65s and 66s posted at The Masters, they have had to find ways of making the course tougher.
The hole known as Azalea (13th) will measure 35 yards longer than last year.
It will now shape up at 545 yards, which will certainly make the players wonder whether it's worth going for the green in two shots - or risk ending up in Rae's Creek.
This historic water hazard not only guards the front of the green, but also runs along the left edge of the fairway.
In 2022, the par-five 13th succumbed to six eagles, out of 17 carded at Augusta all-week.
The tournament average for 13 was 4.8516, making it the 16th easiest hole on the course.
Those who run The Masters lengthened the par-five 15th before last year's tournament, by adding 20 yards.
As a result, no eagles were made during competition, which the tournament committee will be hoping will repeat itself on 13 this time around.
Latest betting for this week's Masters Tournament
Lowest 15 At Augusta National (2017-22)
Average .... (Rounds)
70.17: Dustin Johnson (18)
70.50: Cameron Smith (20)
70.58: Scottie Scheffler (12)
70.68: Rory McIlroy (22)
70.75: Jon Rahm (24)
71.00: Corey Conners (16)
71.04: Hideki Matsuyama (24)
71.04: Justin Thomas (24)
71.14: Jordan Spieth (22)
71.20: Tony Finau (20)
71.25: Brooks Koepka (16)
71.32: Patrick Reed (22)
71.35: Justin Rose (20)
71.39: Xander Schauffele (18)
71.58: Cameron Champ (12)
71.58: Collin Morikawa (12)
Min. No. of Rounds = 10
Only those competing this week are included in table
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Five years ago, it was observed by Augusta chairman Fred Ridley that the leading players were 'hitting middle and even short irons' into the green at 13 and remarked 'that is not a momentous decision. So we think there is an issue.'
And now that the changes have been made, some leading players have had their say.
According to golf.com, defending champ Scottie Scheffler says he will now be taking a driver off the tee, rather than a three-wood.
For those wanting to go for the green in two, he believes a three-iron will become the order of the day, adding: 'So you could see more guys laying up at that hole, depending on pin position.'
Brooks Koepka suggests 'the shorter hitters won't get it around the corner,' while two-time champion Bubba Watson generally agrees with Scheffler and questioned the committee's reasoning.
He said: 'A few years ago, they wanted the roars back on Sunday. Now you're taking away the roars? That's weird.'
Xander Schauffele was unhappy with the 15th being tinkered with in 2022, explaining: 'It's nice to have par-five holes that you can reach in two at Augusta.'
Whether these changes on 13 helps the shorter hitters to compete, or plays even more into the hands of the long drivers, remains to be seen.
The likelihood is that the course will continue to favour the big hitters, when The Masters begins on Thursday.
Driving Distance Averages (yards) on PGA Tour
This Season's Top 10 Thru April 3rd, 2023
1: 326.6 Rory McIlroy
2: 320.4 Brandon Matthews
3: 315.8 Cameron Young
4: 315.1 Matti Schmid
5: 315.0 Cameron Champ
6: 314.1 Jon Rahm
7: 313.7 Jhonattan Vegas
8: 313.0 Wyndham Clark
9: 312.7 Gary Woodland
10: 312.2 Trevor Cone
Note: Not all listed players are taking part this week
Form of Saudi-based Pros teeing-up on Thursday:
Abraham Ancer: No T-12s in these events during 2023;
Bryson DeChambeau: No T-12s in any Saudi events this year;
Sergio Garcia: 6th in Arizona during March, no other T12s;
Talor Gooch: 11th in Mexico during February, no other T12s;
Dustin Johnson: 7th in Orlando on Sunday, no other T12s;
Brooks Koepka: Won in Orlando on Sunday;
Jason Kokrak: 11th in Orlando on Sunday, no other T12s;
Phil Mickelson: No T-12s in these events during 2023;
Kevin Na: 6th in Arizona during March, no other T12s;
Joaquin Niemann: 11th in Mexico during February, no other T12s;
Louis Oosthuizen: Runner-up in Arizona (March), no other T12s;
Mito Pereira: 5th Orlando, 6th Arizona;
Thomas Pieters: No T-12s in these events during 2023;
Patrick Reed: 3rd in Orlando on Sunday, no other T12s;
Charl Schwartzel: No T-12s in these events during 2023;
Cameron Smith: 5th in Mexico during February, no other T12s;
Harold Varner: No T-12s in these events during 2023;
Bubba Watson: No T-12s in these events during 2023;
So far, there has been three tournaments staged, with fields of 48.