Notes: McDowell skips Par 3 for soccer match

Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland wipes his face on the last practice day for the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club April 6, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.

At first glance, it might have been assumed that Graeme McDowell was protecting his chance to win this year’s Masters. The winner of the Par 3 Contest has never gone on to win the green jacket, so McDowell’s decision to skip that part of the festivities raised eyebrows.

Turns out, there was a very legitimate reason: the man from Northern Ireland just had to rush back to his rental home to watch his beloved Manchester United take on Chelsea in a Champions League quarterfinal game.

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Perhaps as a sneak preview of what Thursday will bring, U.S. Amateur champ Peter Uihlein played alongside Phil Mickelson on the back nine. Mickelson, who as defending champion is paired for the first two days with the U.S. Amateur winner, had played the front nine with Fred Couples when they met up with Uihlein and Rickie Fowler at the 10th tee.

Having arrived in Augusta on Friday night, Uihlein has had a busy pre-tournament schedule, but it wound down with the nine-hole tour of the back, then the Par 3 Contest, where he shot 3-under 24.

Uihlein’s mother, Tina, served as his caddie in the Par 3 Contest.

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When Tuesday produced extremely high winds, most players nixed the idea of playing. It just didn’t make sense to practice shots that you’ll not face come Thursday, so players such as Gary Woodland spent most of the day at the putting green and Augusta National’s brilliant short-game area.

That put in jeopardy Woodland’s goal of playing a practice round with a fellow Kansan, Tom Watson. But thanks to a clutch phone call Tuesday night, Woodland connected with a good friend, who put the youngster in touch with Watson, and instructions were simple: balls in the air off the 10th tee at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

So as a final tuneup to his first Masters, Woodland got to play the back alongside the two-time champion. Watson then ducked off the stage, but Woodland got a quick bite to eat and then waited to join Matt Kuchar to play the front. Only problem was, Kuchar thought he missed connections and teed off with Ernie Els and Larry Mize.

Halfway down the hill, Kuchar realized Woodland had come out of the clubhouse and arrived at the first tee, so he waved Els and Mize on and waited.

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Nick Watney has made the cut in all three Masters starts, so the nerves aren’t really much of a factor anymore. Not so for his wife, Amber. She got the call to caddie in the Par 3 Contest and conceded that she had concerns – but not about the crowd or anything. Instead, she was hoping she didn’t have to carry the big tour bag and all 14 clubs.

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Not only was former PGA Championship winner Al Geiberger making his return to Augusta National for the first time since 1984, but 1956 U.S. Open champ Jack Fleck was here for the first time since 1966. Both played in the Par 3 Contest. Fleck shot 11-over 38.

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Shooting 2-under 25 in the Par 3 Contest might not have seemed like a big deal, but it was all of that for Tim Clark. It was an indication that he’s prepared for his first tournament since tying for second in the Sony Open.

Right after that, Clark experienced great pain in his right elbow, later diagnosed as tendinitis. The South African was unable to practice for weeks, and it was touch and go up to the Masters.

But the fact that he teed it up in the Par 3 is a good sign.

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