Par 3 Contest yet another Masterful moment

A general view of the par-3 course is seen during the Par 3 Contest.

A general view of the par-3 course is seen during the Par 3 Contest.

AUGUSTA, Ga. - There are few more glorious places to be on a spring afternoon than under a towering Georgia pine, at celestial Augusta National, a day before the 76th Masters. On Wednesday afternoon, I munched on an egg salad sandwich and sipped on a cold lemonade and surrounded myself with several thousand dimpleheads. There are no bad days here.

As progressive as the Masters has become - online ticketing, tablet apps, 3D coverage - it is the time-honored traditions, such as Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, that enrich the experience for everyone involved. The charm here is undeniable, from the quaint seating areas to the inexpensive sandwiches (and wraps!). Name another sporting event in the world where you can drop $400 at the merchandise stand and $3 for lunch. Somehow, it all evens out.

The par-3 course, if you’ve never seen it, is Augusta National in miniature, with the same slippery greens and shaved mounds and sparkling white sand. Life in vibrant color.

Said Padraig Harrington, who was declared a co-champion with Jonathan Byrd at 5-under 22 when afternoon thunderstorms suspended play: “The whole thing is memorable.”

Just look at the spectators. Fathers and sons. Grandmothers and granddaughters. Husbands and wives. Inside the ropes, there was even a mother and a son - Kaye and Keegan Bradley. And an uncle and his nephew - Keegan and 18-month-old Aiden.

“It was unbelievable,” Kaye Bradley said of looping for her son. “It went too quick. I wish it wasn’t over.”

Keegan, 25, is playing his first Masters, and on Wednesday he wore green Oakley golf shoes. Last August, he was playing his first major, the PGA Championship in Atlanta, and he won in a playoff. So he’s 1-for-1 - that kind of batting average puts you in the Hall of Fame.

As for employing his mother Wednesday, Keegan said: “She doesn’t get a lot of credit for my career, but I think it was a nice way to thank her for all the time she’s helped me out in golf.

“It was a special day. I’ll never forget it.”

It’s a safe bet the spectators won’t either. You’re so close, you can see the individual strands of hair in Rickie Fowler’s mustache. You’re so close, you can see the veins in Adam Scott’s forearms. You’re so close, you can see the waves in Phil Mickelson’s hair.

It’s such an interesting dynamic, playing a hit-and-giggle before a potentially career-defining tournament. But, Tim Clark said, “the more fun you have at this, the better you end up playing.”

If that’s the case, consider Lee Westwood even more of a contender. He was a hoot Wednesday, pumping up the crowd and tossing broken tees at Thomas Bjorn. When a female spectator asked for a photo, Westwood stopped immediately and began posing as if for a fashion-magazine spread.

For all the good cheer though, greenside spectators needn’t get distracted. Much like a fan sitting along the third-base line without a glove, there is inherent risk in being so close to the action, and more than a few fans were pelted with errant tee shots Wednesday.

But hey, shake it off. At Augusta, being hurt never felt so good.

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