Like all sirens, the dreadfully beautiful Amen Corner has her good days - balmy spring afternoons when she lures more Masters wayfarers to their doom than even she could hope.
Today, that famed three-hole stretch of the Augusta National course - the 10th, 11th and 12th holes-laid claim to pieces of the psyches of Lanny Wadkins, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Weiskopf, Lee Elder, Fuzzy Zoeller and many another who had visions of the Masters lead.
Each left a chastened and, in some cases, a wiser man. Those few who plied the Corner with humble entreaties. begging for her favors, found themselves at the top of the leader board at day's end-Bruce Lietake. Tom Watson, Joe Inman.
For half a mile, a tunnel of towering pine, flecked with dogwood, cascades downhill like a spring torrent until it spills into an amphitheater of azaleas, redbud and rhododendron behind Rae's Creek and Hogan Bridge.
This Masters meeting place of horticulture and horrors, which spectators call golf heaven but players suspect may be the opposite, has earned its name because, as Inman says, "as soon as you step to the 10th tee, you start to pray."
Bobby Jones conceived of Augusta National as a tameable beast, a dangerous big cat that could claw or purr depending on how she was stroked. The 485-yard, par-4 10th, the 445-yard, water-guarded 11th and the demonically treacherous 155-yard 12th are the crux of the test that Jones considered his monument.
"The tournament is decided at the Corner almost every year," said Inman. "That's where the dramatic swings always seem to be. This is the ultimate psychological course-it demands gambles, then plays with your mind. The Corner is the heart of it. You always come out of there in a dramatically altered frame of mind than when you went in."
Augusta is a haven for birdies and double bogyes - the showcase scores of the sport, just as pars and bogeys are its meat and potatoes. "The Amen Corner captures the whole idea." said Inman. "You hit great shots and get great rewards, or you mess up and it eats you alive."
Lanny Wadkins got the full treatment today. Jones must have chuckled. The brash, red-hot Wadkins fired a 32 on the front nine, lowest score of the day. "I never felt so good on the practice tee in my life," said Wadkins, already a two-time winner this spring. "No words for how good I'm hittin' it. After the 32, there's no way I figured I could shoot more tha*n 65. A course record (now 64)? Well, maybe."
At the 10th, a long draw off the tee is rewarded with a 50-yard bonus bounce and an easy approach. Anything else is an invitation to bogeyville. Wadkins' tee ball was long, but right rather than left. His second shot found a trap. Three putts sent him to a double bogey. The wheels were wobbling.
At the 11th, like the rest of humanity, Wadkins stayed right of the menacing pond on the left front that is certain double bogey since the wedge shot from a drop area is almost impossible. So he missed the green and took bogey.
Wadkins at the 12th tee should have been photographed for posterity. He was a man in a hurry to make an appointment with a car wreck. He couldn't wait to lash angrily at a seven-iron, catch it eat, dump it in Rae's Creek and proceed, like a condemned spirit, to another double bogey. As Wadkins trudged up the 13th fairway and out of the Amen Corner's sight, his name and numbers were already being dragged down off the leader board. Perhaps the hottest golfer in the world had seen another Masters dream punctured.
By contrast, Tom Watson, "playing cautiously really . . . just trying to make pars," went through the Amen Corner birdie-par-birdie. The difference between Watson and Wadkins on just those three holes was seven shots - plus a state of mind that would last the rest of the round.
"I shot 41 on the back," said Wadkins, "and hit the ball as well as I ever have in my life."
Many a soul was lost in the deep. Tom Weiskopf, otherwise two under par, knocked two balls in Rae's Creek for a one-putt triple bogey at the 12th. Lee Elder watched his partner drop an iron shot 10 feet short of the pin at 12 that spun back off the fringe and into the water. Elder was so unnerved that his shot flew almost 100 feet over the green, rolling near the 13th tee, from which point he escaped with his second bogey courtesy of Amen Corner.
"When you get through there with pars, let alone two birdies," said Watson, "you feel like you've stolen something."
"I went through the Corner in a trance," said leader Lietzke. "I just missed three birdie putts. After that, I said, 'If I can do that here , then I can do anything." At which point, he ran off four straight birdies.
"This course has a subtle way of weeding out the psychologically weak of defensive," said Inman.
When Jones designed this southern-most tip of Augusta National, that was the plan. The Amen Corner is where the faint-heart's game goes south. And where champions step forward to collect their green coats. CAPTION: Pictures 1 through 3, Gary Player watches birdie drop, left; Lanny Wadkins, center, and Bruce Lietzke celebrate birds of their own. UPI/AP