AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta National might be too long for 68-year-old Tom Watson these days, but the 1,061-yard Par 3 course is another story.
Watson conquered the beautiful nine-hole layout in 6-under 21 to win the Masters Par 3 contest Wednesday, beating Tommy Fleetwood and Thomas Pieters by one stroke.
The fact that Watson, a two-time Masters champion, isn’t playing in this year’s tournament meant he didn’t have to worry about the big Wednesday jinx. No one has ever gone on to win the Masters after winning the Par 3 Contest, so that streak remains intact for another year.
“When I birdied the first three holes, I made the putt at number three, I said, ‘Well, let’s see if I can win this thing,” Watson said. “There’s no hex. I’m not playing in the big tournament, so there’s no pressure on me not to win.”
The fans were absolutely abuzz on holes No. 8 and 9 when Watson came through with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas served as a proper warm-up act in the water-filled amphitheater just a few groups ahead.
Watson elicited that distinctive Augusta roar when he stuck his tee shot to tap-in range at the downhill, 120-yard eighth. He tapped in for birdie to take a one-stroke lead. Watson played a safe shot into the ninth green, but was outdone but Jack Nicklaus’ grandson, GT. He was on the bag for Nicklaus and it’s custom for caddies to have a go at the ninth on Wednesdays. GT jarred the shot and nearly blew a lid of the place.
“Jack (is) crying like a baby,” Watson said. “Couldn’t have been any better. No better scene in golf. … The statement you make is that this game’s for older people. It’s generational. You’re not done after you’re 30 like most sports – or 40 – you can still play into your 70s and 80s.”
Nicklaus, 78, finished T-3 at 4 under and certainly wasn’t the only one to shed a tear around the property. The azaleas were in bloom and the sun was shining after a cloud-filled, chilly morning. The Par 3 Contest is one of those timeless traditions at Augusta National that can melt the hardest of cynics.
How can you resist the sight of Ted Potter Jr.’s tiny son wearing an itty-bitty white bib, running around with a regular-sized golf club in his hands, whacking away at the green without a care in the world?
How can you resist the sight of Texas senior Doug Ghim, the 2017 U.S. Amateur runner-up, walking to the fourth green with his mom on his arm?
For all the cheesy poetry and hyperbole that accompanies such cherished, high-profile events, the sights and sounds at the Par 3 Contest are just too good to resist.
“Jack was really, he was sweet,” Watson said. “He said, ‘I can’t tell you how much a pleasure it was to play with you today.”
The pleasure was all ours, boys.