AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Tom Watson struck a blow for the old timers and Jack Nicklaus’s 15-year-old grandson and caddie capped a rollicking, fun-filled U.S. Masters Par-3 Contest with an ace on Wednesday.
The 68-year-old Watson, playing with fellow greats Nicklaus and Gary Player, needed only eight putts to post a six-under 21 and edge out Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and Belgian Thomas Pieters to become the oldest winner of the tournament’s traditional curtain-raiser.
GT Nicklaus Jr., one of 22 grandchildren of the fabled Golden Bear, was given a swing from the last tee after lugging the six-times champion’s bag, and fired his first ever ace to set off a wild celebration punctuated by a laughing bear hug from his granddad.
In winning the family-friendly competition, where kids, parents, wives and girlfriends often participate, Watson shrugged off the so-called Par-3 Curse, whereby no winner has gone on to win the Masters, because he will not be competing in the tournament.
Twice Masters champion Watson overtook Sam Snead as the oldest winner of the Par-3 competition. Snead, who in 1960 won the inaugural contest on the picturesque layout adjacent to the championship course, also won for a second time 14 years later when he was one month shy of his 62nd birthday.
Nicklaus, 78, also thrilled the packed galleries by going four under par, while 82-year-old Player was two under in an exhilarating showing by the former lions of the game.
“Watch out for the old guys,” said Watson, who predicted the trend might continue at Augusta National. “You’ve got Mickelson (47) and you’ve got Tiger (42). Watch out. They could make some noise.”
After a record nine aces were posted in the 2016 competition won by Jimmy Walker, only two holes in one were officially recorded.
One was registered by Tony Finau, who almost fell victim to the curse in an unconventional way.
Finau began running toward the seventh green after his tee shot disappeared into the hole and swung around to jog backwards while motioning for his family to join him before he twisted his left foot and crumpled to the ground.
Fortunately, Finau recovered and finished the nine-hole round, escaping the curse for the time being.
Editing by Ed Osmond