At the Masters Par-3 Contest, everyone's a winner
The Par-3 Contest at the Masters is the tournament that no one wants to win, but everyone wants to watch. Held on Augusta National's nine-hole par-3 course, which looks like your local pitch and putt gone to heaven, the contest is golf's version of baseball's home-run derby. But instead of teeing off on meatball pitches, Masters contestants and special invitees get to hit wedges into 100-plus yard holes that give guys a fighting chance at a hole-in-one with a little luck and local knowledge.
Famously, no player has won the Par 3 since it began in 1960 and then gone on to win the Masters. (Some players have tanked down the stretch, skimming balls into the water, to avoid winning.) Fortunately, that didn't seem to bother Wednesday's winner, Tim Clark, who believes this historical quirk is more coincidence than curse.
"To win this is something I will have forever," Clark said after his 5-under score, which included an ace on the ninth and final hole. "Like I say, I'm not one who believes in superstition. I believe it's merely coincidence that the winner has not gone on to win. Obviously it's extremely tough to win on Augusta National. I've got my work cut out."
You sometimes hear people say that watching practice rounds and the Par 3 is as good as the tournament itself. Not exactly, but it is a special day a day where players' wives or girlfriends or kids caddie for them, fans snap pictures and ask for autographs (no-nos starting Thursday), a day where you see the players laugh and smile (no-nos starting Thursday), a day where you can watch the Big Three play together, a day where the best thing isn't to win, but to amaze the crowd with an ace or with a putting stroke that looks barely stronger than a breath yet sends the ball 30-feet down the green and into the hole, a day that only happens the Wednesday of Masters week.
So in the spirit of a day with many winners, enjoy Golf.com's first-annual Par-3 Contest Awards.
Most Unforgettable Shot
Playing with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, Gary Player hit a hole-in-one on the ninth, sort of. After putting one in the water hazard, his next shot landed on the green, which slopes back to front. He caught the ridge behind the hole, and the ball trickled in. When he reached the green, the 73-year-old Player made a celebratory, karate-style kick. (If he hurt his hamstring, he didn't show it.)
Most Forgettable Shot
On the same ninth hole that Player aced, Arnold Palmer put two in the water and didn't come to the green to putt out. You can see so clearly how much his diminished skills pain Palmer. He wants so bad to compete, yet he's able to shrug it off with a rueful smile, and still goes out every year for the fans that want to see him.
Tiger Woods, who hasn't played the Par 3 since 2005. In fairness to Tiger, if he played, he'd probably be signing autographs right up until his Thursday afternoon tee time. We'll see him here again when daughter Sam and son Charlie are old enough to caddie. "You play a practice round in the morning, then sit around for your tee time," Woods said in his newsletter. "It just becomes a long day and takes away from your main preparation. I'm sure there will be a day when I come back and play, especially when Sam and Charlie get a little older and can caddie for me."
Most Attractive Caddie
Since a lot of players have their wives and girlfriends caddie, this category was expected to be competitive, but Henrik Stenson's wife, Emma, won going away. Her margin of victory was like Tiger at the Masters in 1997. Unreal.
Most Attractive Caddie (Cougar Division)
I'm not sure you see it on television as much, but in person Chris Evert still looks great. She caddied for husband Greg Norman and got caught up in the Par-3 fun when the fans around the ninth chanted "Chrissie! Chrissie!" so she'd take Greg's 20-foot downhill putt. Instead Evert ran into the crowd to hide.
Best Hmmmmm Moment
Greg Norman aced No. 6. Hmmmmmmm.
Busiest Guy Not in the Masters Tournament
Ian Baker-Finch of CBS Sports played the Par-3 Contest after a morning practice round with Gary Player and Danny Lee. Once described as a 5-handicap with a plus-5 short game, Baker-Finch can still get up-and-down from anywhere. Keep that in mind: Average drives and long irons plus exceptional short game equal major champion. There's a lesson in there for your weekend match.
Best Putt That Nick Faldo Stopped From Going In
Playing in a British threesome, which unfortunately didn't include Keira Knightley, Ian Poulter's tee shot on nine ended short of the hole. Instead of putting at the hole, Poulter putted past the hole, up the ridge in the middle of the green and tried to run it back in. The putt was moving unthinkably slow so playing partner Nick Faldo repeatedly waved his putter in front of the ball, trying to create resistance to stop Poulter's ball, which it did just an inch from the hole.
Nicest Father-Son Moment
If you've read about Anthony Kim, you know he didn't always have the best relationship with his father growing up. I can't imagine how it felt for either of them when AK read the putt on nine for his father to make. But I'm guessing it felt pretty good.
Nicest Grandfather-Grandson Moment
Playing in a Golden Years threesome, which unfortunately didn't include Betty White, Jack Nicklaus read his final putt on nine for his 15-year-old grandson, Chris, who looks like a taller (6'6) version of his granddad. The kid made the putt of course; it's in his blood.
For those of you concerned that golf is becoming too edgy, exciting and diverse, we offer you the Steve Stricker-Sean O'Hair pairing.
Group Most Likely to Worry Tiger Woods
Padraig Harrington, Danny Lee and Ryo Ishikawa played together during the Par-3 Contest. While Tiger's not losing sleep over anybody, Padraig is the one guy in the tournament you know could match Tiger down the stretch. On the other hand, Ishikawa and Lee are both just 17. When Tiger's pushing 40, they'll be pushing him.
Canadian Mike Weir putted with a modified hockey stick.
The Par 3 Tournament was on TV for the second time this year. To catch all the action, a camera moved over the pond on wires to different greens. It looked like a small version of one of those sentient machines that destroyed cities in the War of the Worlds movie.
Pants That Could Be Seen From Farthest Away
Real upset here as Ryo Ishikawa wore toxic green pants more blinding than Ian Poulter's grey, white and red plaid pants.
Most Fan-Friendly Player
Basically everyone. The tournament designated certain areas just off the greens and tee boxes for children under the age of 16, and from what I saw, players signed everything for them, and for a lot of other people too. I think a 16-year-old age limit for autographs is a great idea. Anyone who's old enough to drive a car is too old to ask other adults to sign a piece of paper for them, unless they're a loan officer. Honorable mention goes to Fuzzy Zoeller, who skipped to the ninth green with an adorable little girl from the gallery.