Masters: Vijay Singh wants to touch up the Mona Lisa, and Augusta National isn't having it

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 12: Tiger Woods of the United States plays his shot from the 12th tee during the second round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods plays his shot from the 12th tee during the second round of the 2024 Masters. (Warren Little/Getty Images) (Warren Little via Getty Images)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — At precisely 2 p.m. on a glorious Southern spring Friday afternoon, Tiger Woods sank a 3-foot putt for par on the 12th hole of the Augusta National Golf Club.

Back across Rae’s Creek, a throng of maybe 5,000 roared their approval, in part because Woods had originally whacked his drive into some mulch behind the green and in part because, well, they were at the 12th hole of Augusta National Golf Club.

The 12th is the heart of Amen Corner and is one of the most glorious sporting cathedrals in America. The thin, bean-shaped green. The water in front, azaleas in back. The tall pines, which offer shade and a way to measure the swirling winds. The elegance of the three-arched stoned bridges (Hogan and Nelson).

“The most iconic par-3 in the world,” said Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley.

To most, certainly.

But maybe in need of an improvement?

“They should lengthen it by at least 10 yards,” Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion, told the Augusta Chronicle. “I think it should go to at least 170.”

Singh’s suggestion is born from competition not aesthetics. Sitting at just 155 yards, the 12th is the only hole at Augusta that hasn’t been lengthened since 1935.

Singh believes the modern golfer and his modern clubs have made that distance obsolete, turning what was once a tricky hole into an easy, and non-interesting one.

“We used to hit 7-irons and 6-irons and then it started going to 7-irons and 8-irons and it’s gone from 8-irons to 9-irons and the guys are hitting wedges now,” said Singh, who has been playing here since 1994.

“... It used to be a hole that you go to and everybody used to worry about it, distance-wise, to get the correct distance,” Singh continued. “But now it’s, ‘Hit a 9-iron to the middle of the green.’ ”

Singh’s comments went over like a patron talking on a cellphone here, not merely wrong, but an affront to what makes the Masters the Masters.

Change hole 12?

“That's almost like asking, ‘Can we touch up the Mona Lisa a little bit?’ ” Ridley said.

The 12th is the most famous hole at Augusta and one of the most famous in the world. No trip here is complete without it. It’s not unusual to see people pushing relatives in wheelchairs all the way down there, tucked far from the clubhouse, just for a once-in-a lifetime experience.

The Masters sets up two large grandstands with approximately 1,162 dedicated seats. Thousands of others put down folding chairs or just stand and take in the glory of the spot. A large, nearby concession stand offers drinks and sandwiches.

Singh’s point however is backed up, in some ways, by statistics. While everyone recalls famous past meltdowns — Jordan Spieth’s final round quadruple bogey in 2016, for instance — GolfWeek reported that scoring at the 12th has decreased in five of the past six years.

Its average historic score of 3.27, however, still ranks it as the fourth hardest hole at the tournament all time.

So far in 2024 it was coming in at 3.18, the 10 toughest. That includes a triple bogey from Zach Johnson on Friday, who after tapping in promptly yelled “[expletive] off” back at the fans. He probably didn’t think it was too easy.

The 12th has yielded just three holes-in-one in the 88-year history of the Masters. The last was Curtis Strange in 1988. To Vijay’s point? Strange used a 7-iron.

The back and forth is why any decision to touch 12 would require a far larger sample size of supposed ease than a few years. Even if adding 10 or 15 yards wouldn’t change the backdrop, it would cut into the area where patrons watch or it could alter how the hole is played.

Whatever benefits there might be, Ridley doesn’t want to hear it.

“I would say with a hundred percent certainty that it would not be lengthened during my tenure,” Ridley said.