Precise drive a necessity on No. 18

McGirt tees off on the 18th.

It’s all about starting strong at the finishing hole this week.

No. 18 has played a variety of ways since Thursday, from fighting the wind to keeping it on line to placing your drive in a spot for a reasonable approach. The one constant from the first three rounds has been the need for precision off the tee.

The par-4 18th ranked as the toughest in the third round of the Masters Tournament on Saturday at 4.3. There were only five birdies to 16 bogeys and two double bogeys.

The finishing hole tends to play tougher than average at Augusta National Golf Club, ranking seventh-toughest all-time and sixth last year. But it’s currently the third most difficult hole this week, a rarity that sets up potential drama Sunday.

There have been plenty of dramatic moments at No. 18 over the years, but it’s typically reserved for the green. This week, the tight tee shot has wreaked havoc on many players by clipping branches or leaving impossible approach shots.

“It’s a tricky tee shot, but if you get it in position, second shot, usually you’ve seen quite a few birdies,” defending champion Danny Willett said Friday. “But it’s obviously one of those where you’ve got to be in position in the fairway to give yourself somewhat of a look.”

That has applied the first three days. Among par-4s, only Nos. 1, 7 and 11 have a worse greens-in-regulation percentage. Like those holes, 18 has a worse-than-average fairway percentage.

It came to a head in the third round when only 57 percent of the field hit the green in two, the second-worst rate behind the treacherous No. 11.

These numbers are a bit out of the ordinary for one of the most famous finishing holes in golf. Several attributed the difficulty this week to changing conditions, especially left-to-right gusts the first two days.

“People don’t understand how tough that tee shot is right now,” William McGirt said Friday. “There’s not enough room on the left side to be able to work one, and the last thing you want to do is hang it right.”

Kevin Chappell’s struggles on the hole Saturday defined the changing conditions. He left his tee shot to the left and found a bunker, then hit a greenside bunker and failed to get up and down for par.

“It definitely has (played differently),” Chappell said. “The tee shot I hit – I needed that wind we had earlier in the week – I hit it dead straight at the corner of that first bunker, it kicks it left in there.”

Reach David Lee at (706) 823-3216

or david.lee@augustachronicle.com.

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