Augusta: Tom Watson, who called time on his appearances at the Masters in 2016, was back in the winners’ circle but in that fun “Contest before the Competition" over the Par-3 course at the Augusta National. Watson, winner of the Masters in 1977 and 1981, made it a neat ‘2 and 2’ as he had also won the Par-3 back in 1982, the year he was T-5th at the Masters and won the US Open and British Open and finished T-9 at the PGA.
Playing in the most sought-after threesome and striking it for the ‘old boys’ was the ‘favourite trio’ of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Watson. While two-time winner Watson won with 6-under 21, six-time champion 78-year-old Nicklaus tied for fourth at 4 under, and the 82-year-old three-time Masters champion Player tied for 10th at 2 under.
Watson birdied six of the nine holes, to edge past 27-year-old Tommy Fleetwood and 26-year-old Thomas Pieters by a stroke.
India’s Shubhankar Sharma, too, was there with his father, Col M.L. Sharma, and 16-year-old sister, Vandini, in the white overalls.
“It was great fun and emotional, too, with so many legends and history around the Par-3 and the Augusta National, itself. It is indeed an honour to be here," said Sharma.
Sharma was even Par 27 for the Par-3 contest and finished Tied-17th alongside 1987 champion Larry Mize, with whom he plays the first two rounds. But all that was just incidental. It was all about the atmosphere, which the Sharma family, including Shubhankar’s mother, Neena, enjoyed thoroughly, that mattered.
It is said that there is a ‘Par-3 Contest hex" as Watson calls because no player who has won the Par-3 has won the Green Jacket the same year. “There is no hex since I’m not playing in the big tournament," Watson said. “So there is no pressure there."
He also added, “Look at Tiger Woods at 42 and then Phil Mickelson. What is he 47 or 48? You better watch out for the old guys this week."
With golfers having their family members around them to share the fun, with partners, kids and even other relatives around them in the traditional caddie attires. Talking of traditions, the caddies’ uniform of white boiler suits and Masters is another one and was introduced exactly 35 years ago for the first time at the 1983 Masters.
Watson was thrilled with his win, and said, “After I birdied the first four holes, I thought it would be really neat to win the Par-3. I won it a long time ago and of course I didn’t win the tournament. I’m not playing the tournament this year, so I said let’s go for it.’’
Watson’s was the winning performance, but the eye-catching and emotional show of the day came from the six-time champion and legendary Jack Nicklaus, whose 15-year-old grandson Gary Nicklaus – one of his 22 grandchildren – caddying for his 78-year-old granddad, aced the final hole of the competition.
Nicklaus, always emotional about his family, said, “My wins here are OK, but to watch your grandson make his first hole in, that’s my No. 1 memory here," Nicklaus said. “That was just pretty neat."
The hole in ones came from Dylan Frittelli and Tony Finau and Jack’s grandson, Gary Nicklaus.
The joy apart, there was a scare, too, when Finau seemed to have twisted his ankle, after celebrating his own ace. He popped it back into place and walked it off and is still expected to compete.
Finally, a word from Watson, “Most importantly it was fun playing with Jack and Gary. We have been playing for years and years. To cap it off with G.T., Jack’s grandson, making a hole in one on the last hole, Jack crying like a baby. There could not have been a better scene in golf."