Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Eight-time major champion Tom Watson became the oldest Masters Par-3 Contest winner at age 68, capturing the casual competition on Wednesday at Augusta National on the eve of the 82nd Masters.
Watson, who also turned time back in the 2009 British Open at age 59 before settling for second at Turnberry to Stewart Cink, fired a 6-under par 21 on Augusta National’s special Par-3 layout.
“After I birdied the first four holes I said it would be all right to win the par-3,” Watson said. “Since I’m not playing in the tournament I said let’s go for it this year.”
No Par-3 Contest winner has ever taken the Masters in the same year, but the “curse” won’t be a factor this year since Watson has retired from playing in the Masters.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood, 41 years younger than Watson, and Belgian Thomas Pieters, another year younger, shared second on 22 with Jack Nicklaus at age 78 in a pack sharing third on 23.
Watson, who also won the Par-3 title in 1982, broke the age mark of 61 set by Sam Snead in 1974, doing so with only eight putts, including a two-putt par at the ninth to seal the triumph.
“That was the Watson of old,” Nicklaus said.
Watson won a crystal pedestal bowl for the victory rather than the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy, which he took in 1977 and 1981. Watson also won five British Open titles and the 1982 US Open among his major wins.
“To see Tom putting the way he did at 68 it was a joy to watch,” said Gary Player, who joined Nicklaus and Watson for the event. “It was a marvelous day, a day I’ll never forget. To see the way they played was remarkable.”
Watson sees his triumph as an omen for old guard entrants in the Masters like Tiger Woods, back from back surgery at age 42, and Phil Mickelson, who at 47 could become the oldest Masters champion, replacing Nicklaus at 46 from 1986.
“The older guys can win,” Watson said. “Watch out for those older guys this week.”
– Nicklaus in tears –
Nicklaus enjoyed what he called his greatest moment in golf when he watched 15-year-old grandson G.T. Nicklaus, serving as his caddie, sink his first hole-in-one at the 135-yard ninth on a just-for-fun swing.
“I was just trying to hit it on the green, hit a good shot and set it up,” said the son of Gary Nicklaus. “For that to happen was just unbelievable.”
The eldest Nicklaus was in tears.
“What I did didn’t make any difference to me. Watching your grandson do something is pretty special,” the 18-time major winner said. “To watch the kid knock in a hole-in-one on the biggest venue in the world, wow. It was a very special day, one I’ll never forget.”
Spectators lined the special 1,060-yard course adjacent to the legendary Masters par-72 layout, where children often caddie for Masters-player parents in a relaxing trek before the grueling major test starts.
“It’s a nice thing to be able to do on the eve of the tournament,” said Rory McIlroy, who can complete a career Grand slam win a win. “It’s nice to have a little bit of fun. The more relaxed you can be going into Thursday the better.”
On the eve of their Masters debuts, South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli and American Tony Finau boosted the ace total to 96, Frittelii at the 120-yard eighth hole and Finau at the 115-yard seventh. Finau twisted his left ankle as he celebrated but kept on playing.