AUGUSTA, Ga. – While the names of the holes that make up Amen Corner ring gentle – the 11th is White Dogwood, the 12th Golden Bell and the 13th Azalea – the 1,170-yard immaculate stretch of golf is just plain nasty.
Under brilliant sunshine Thursday between the towering pines of Augusta National Golf Club, the first day of the first major championship of the year produced a collection of gloom that gathered throughout the course -- especially at Amen Corner, christened by renowned golf writer Herbert Warren Wind in 1958. It has been a historical nightmare for many since.
Mishaps were aplenty. Defending champion Adam Scott and Miguel Angel Jimenez dumped their tee shots into Rae's Creek on the 12th, costing Jimenez his two-shot lead. Fred Couples' first bogey of the day came on 12. Steve Stricker came to Amen Corner 3 under for the day and promptly made bogey on 11 and 12.
"It was like (the wind) didn't want to make up its mind," Stricker said following his 72. "It's tough getting the right club. ... You hit and you hope you guessed right at the right time.
With the course firming up and the temperatures forecast to rise, Amen Corner is expected to get tougher this weekend, a scary thought.
The par-4, 505-yard 11th played as the toughest hole in the first round, to a 4.474 average and allowing just two birdies – by Ryan Moore and Thomas Bjorn. The 155-yard par-3 12th played as the second toughest at 3.423 and gave up just six birdies. The 510-yard par-5 13th was the breather, playing as the second-easiest hole at 4.711 and surrendering eagles by Ryan Moore and Matt Jones and 41 birdies.
Bill Haas got through the stretch with two pars and a birdie – a huge reason he shot 4-under-par 68 to take a one-shot lead on Scott, 2012 champion Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen.
Scott, who was touched by the standing ovation he received from a throng of patrons as he reached the heart of Amen Corner, tipped his cap, smiled – and then hit the water and made double-bogey on the par-3.
"It was a weak shot," he said. "It's actually the first time I think I've ever hit it in that creek. So going to move on (today) and put it behind me."
That's easier said than done.
"I imagine it's going to get a little bit firmer and faster as we continue to play," Stricker said. "So it's going to make things even more challenging and more difficult."
Brandt Snedeker had his own difficulties. He bogeyed 11 and 12 after getting to 3 under and then incurred a one-stroke penalty on the 13th when his ball moved less than an inch. After replacing the ball in its original position and taking his penalty medicine, he still made par and finished two shots behind Haas.
Others were less fortunate on the three holes abutting Rae's Creek, such as Jimmy Walker, who made bogey on 11 and 13.
"You've got to watch it at Amen Corner," he said after his 70.
Couples, who shot 71, called it really hard, "But not crazy."
"Eleven is always hard, no matter how it is," he said. "But I know guys are screwing up on (12) a little bit; it's just a hard shot. If you don't hit a perfect shot into the wind on 12, it's going to come up short. If you're a little right, you're going to probably hit the bank and go in the water. Obviously, if you go left, you might get it in the bunker. But that's kind of the toughest shot you'll have for most of the day."
It was for the Golden Bear at the Golden Bell. Only the par-3 4th hole, where he was 43-over par in 163 rounds during his career in the Masters, was tougher for six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus than the 12th. Nicklaus was 36-over par at 12, with 24 birdies. He still got the better of Amen Corner because he was 76 under on the 13th hole.
"When you go to Amen Corner, you take a big breath when you go in there, and when you leave you go (exhaling), if you can get through it in decent form," Nicklaus said after hitting the ceremonial tee shots with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. "Very rarely has there been anybody who has screwed up that area and done well.
"I think it's an appropriate name and I don't think there's another stretch in ...in championship golf that would warrant anything like that."