Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Golf [Print without images]

Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Jason Sobel's Live Masters Blog

By Jason Sobel
ESPN.com

5:30 p.m. ET: With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Tim Clark has either had the unfortunate accomplishment of winning the Par 3 Contest ... or he's about to break a 50-year curse.

Clark wins the day-before tourney for the first time, thanks to a hole-in-one on the final hole. Now if only someone could make an eagle to win on the big course Sunday ...

That'll do it for the Par 3 Live Blog for today, but I'll be back soon enough, starting at 8 a.m. ET Thursday for Round 1 -- the exact time Ian Woosnam, Chez Reavie and Briny Baird tee off to start the festivities. Click here early and often, as I'll be back with the usual Live Blog antics, plus some new video blogs and in-blog SportsNation chats.

The Masters Tournament starts tomorrow morning. Get fired up, people. I know I am.

See you at 8 a.m. on Thursday. Until then, hit 'em straight ...


5:25 p.m. ET: E-mail from Alex in Alpharetta, Ga.:

Would you consider Fred Couples a sleeper pick? I think he's a great pick because hits the ball long and high. Just needs to get the putter going!

He is and he isn't. I mean, at 49 and without a PGA Tour victory since 2003, he certainly fits the sleeper profile. But considering he's made the cut in 23 of 24 appearances here and is coming off a T-3 finish in Houston, he might actually be considered a contender coming in.

Either way, would be a great story if Freddie can contend this week. I know going a full 72 for back-to-back weeks isn't something he's used to these days, but if his back holds up he might be hitting his groove at just the right time.


5:21 p.m. ET: In case you're wondering, the best Masters finish by a Par 3 Contest winner came from Chip Beck (1993) and Ray Floyd ('90), each of whom finished in second place.

Coincidentally enough -- or maybe not -- Clark has also been a runner-up here, losing to Phil Mickelson three years ago.


5:18 p.m. ET: With only a few players left on the Par 3 course, the only player who can catch Tim Clark is Chez Reavie, currently at 3-under with two to play.

I think blogging bylaws state that I must make a French restaurant joke every time I mention Chez Reavie's name, but I'm gonna pass this time, thanks.


5:16 p.m. ET: Unsure what happened to Fred Couples on the final hole, but he's somehow just put himself in contention to win the Masters ... because he didn't take the Par 3 Contest.

Freddie came to No. 9 at 4-under, but right now he's not even among those at 2-under. Hmmm ... a little gamesmanship? Quite possible.


5:12 p.m. ET: For those who want to add a little fuel to the Tiger/Phil fire, check out this note from the PGA Tour:

There's one scenario in which Phil Mickelson can wrest control of the No. 1 ranking from Tiger Woods. Mickelson needs to win and Woods must finish lower than second. No other scenario exists -- Mickelson MUST win.

Wonder if either of them knows this. Certainly, both would rather win another green jacket than be No. 1 on the OWGR, but if a byproduct means extending the lead (for Woods) or becoming No. 1 for the first time ever (for Mickelson) they'll each take it.


5:07 p.m. ET: E-mail from Nayem in Toronto:

The only tourney you didn't blog in which Tiger competed (at Bay Hill), he won. I say you take few days off from all this blogging and enjoy Tiger's win at the Masters.

I've got a better idea: Tiger peels a few bills off that noteworthy stack in his wallet and I -- ahem -- come down with an illness the next four days, keeping me from blogging.

Whaddya say, TW? Ball is in your court ... or on your tee, if you will.


5:05 p.m. ET: E-mail from David in Romania:

To your knowledge, has anyone ever teed it up from the opposite side?

Didn't see anyone today, but the TV coverage showed Phil Mickelson hitting righty and Ben Crenshaw hitting lefty. I bet it's happened a lot more often that that, too.


5:01 p.m. ET: As the final few groups head toward the end of the Par 3 Contest, I've gotta wonder whether Tim Clark, who finished more than two hours ago, stuck around to either receive a trophy or in case of a playoff.

If he did, here's hoping he at least took some time to hit the range for a while.


4:58 p.m. ET: Didn't realize this, but apparently Jack Nicklaus never played in the Par 3 during his playing days because he didn't want it to interfere with his preparation for the actual Masters.

For those who wish to discredit Tiger Woods for skipping the event, might want to look at the guy with the all-time green jacket lead.


4:50 p.m. ET: Quick leaderboard check: Tim Clark finished early, closing with that hole-in-one on No. 9, and remains in the lead at 5-under. Fred Couples is currently in sole possession of second place at 4-under. His ball is on the front of the eighth green. If he can either hole that or make birdie on the last, we'll have a playoff.

Other potential contenders include Steve Flesch and Anthony Kim, each at 3-under with two holes to play.


4:47 p.m. ET: The kids here on the course are absolutely hilarious. The best part of this tradition, really.

From Dudley Hart's triplets mugging for the camera without their two front teeth to Stuart Appleby's young daughter taking a nap while wearing an "apple" hat to Rory Sabbatini's son Harley just making a putt for Dad then racing across the green and tackling the golf bag, it's all pretty entertaining to watch.


4:43 p.m. ET: E-mail from Dave in Nashville:

What is the prize for the Par-3? Money? Trophy? Buying the next round at the bar on Wednesday night?

Those who make aces must buy for everyone in the gallery. Hope you brought your wallet, John Merrick. (Or maybe Norman can pick up your share.)

Seriously, though ... trophies are awarded to the winner and to the contestants who place their tee shots nearest the flagstick on each of the nine holes. Runner-up trophies are awarded only in the event of a playoff.


4:37 p.m. ET: Hole-in-one for Gary Player at No. 9!

Well, sorta.

OK, it was a hole-in-three.

After splashing down in the pond with his first tee shot, the Black Knight finds the bottom of the cup with his next shot for a routine par.


4:29 p.m. ET: Back in a few. Going on Doug Gottlieb's show on ESPN Radio ...


4:23 p.m. ET: E-mail from Tim in Bloomington, Ind.:

So I have Fred Couples and Greg Norman in my foursome for the ESPN Best Ball Contest. Now that they are doing great at the Par 3, everyone else will throw them off their team. Should I do the same? Which is your foursome to make the most birdies during the week?

Shameless plug: You can see my entire ranking of the field, from 1 through 96, right here.

For my Best Ball team, I went with a little European Ryder Cup lineup. My picks: Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell. If you're going to take high-proceed Tiger Woods, you'd better be able to pull a dark horse or two who makes it to the weekend.


4:17 p.m. ET: Speaking of holes-in-one, Masters rookie John Merrick just posted the third of the day, joining Tim Clark and Greg Norman.

Must be a thrill. I was recently talking to Merrick about his first appearance in this tournament and he told me, "I think there's something wrong if the blood's not flowing."

He was talking about teeing off on No. 1 in Thursday's opening round, but I'm guessing the blood was flowing a little bit right there, too.


4:13 p.m. ET: E-mail from Brad in Augusta, Ga., about that Vijay video I posted earlier:

I was sitting on the hill by 16 yesterday when Vijay hit his ace, and one of the gallery guards mentioned that he's worked the 16th hole for the past 18 years and has never seen or heard of a golfer skipping one in. He had seen holes-in-one, but never one that skipped and then went in. You can't really tell from the video, but the ball skipped four or five times.

Had a feeling that might have been the case. I know I've never heard of it happening before.

Leads to this e-mail from Kevin in Parts Unknown:

Which do you think is more impressive: The trick shot by Vijay or a full-court buzzer beater? I saw that shot by Vijay and I think that is far more impressive than any trick shot I have ever seen an NBA player make.

Without a doubt. It's the equivalent to those old Jordan/Bird commercials in which they'd throw the ball all over the gym and proclaim, "Nothing but net!" Would have only been better if Vijay called his shot.


4:11 p.m. ET: Fourth straight birdie for Fred Couples after a par on the first hole.

He's now at 4-under through five.

And, oh by the way, Couples told Scott Van Pelt prior to his round that he would make an ace today. Even picked the hole -- No. 7. We'll see ...


4:06 p.m. ET: E-mail from Paul in Parts Unknown:

Is there any equivalent to the Par-3 anywhere else in golf or another sport? It's such a hidden gem -- a family moment, a setting never used by pros any other time, and a tranquil moment before the high pressure and the big stage of the Augusta Cathedral. After a lifetime of anticipating a visit to Augusta and being in attendance for the final round of the Tiger Slam, the Par 3 course is still my favorite memory of my hallowed visit. The Home Run Derby, the Slam Dunk contest, the Crosby Clambake ... none hold the simple charm and appeal of this casual gathering. Do you agree?

Agree with everything you write except for the word "hidden." With the first televised Par 3 Contest last year, it's now on display for everyone to see rather than just a myth and legend. And most of the players love being able to share this side of themselves with the world. Too often fans think of these guys as robots since they're so focused on the task at hand inside the ropes; this gives them a chance to show a little personality on a bigger stage.


3:59 p.m. ET: Birdie on No. 6 for Jack Nicklaus and he's now tied for second place at 3-under along with amateur Jack Newman and Fred Couples -- two shots behind Tim Clark.

How's that for a leaderboard? FYI, neither Jack nor Freddie has ever won the Par 3.


3:52 p.m. ET: E-mail from Matt in Lee, Mass.:

Given how much Tiger usually likes to take on challenges, such as his insistence that he can win the Grand Slam, wouldn't you think he would like to participate in this every year to try and break The Curse? You don't think Tiger actually fears this Curse like everyone else, do you?

Well, back in 2004 -- the last year he played -- Woods tied for the lead with Padraig Harrington at 4-under 23 ... but didn't stick around for a playoff due to a "previous commitment." Ever since, he hasn't even let such a possibility come into play by skipping it altogether. Conventional wisdom states that Tiger would rather practice and/or rest for the afternoon than compete in the Par 3, but maybe he's a little superstitious after all.


3:46 p.m. ET: Two aces so far in the Par 3 Contest today -- Greg Norman on No. 6 and Tim Clark on No. 9.

Those aren't the only two holes-in-one on site this week, however.

There's a tradition here in which players skip balls across the pond on the par-3 16th hole, trying to land their shots on the green. Players who accomplish that get cheered; those who don't get booed.

I'm sure it's been done before, but I've never heard of a player actually holing one of these shots ... until now.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present this shot from Vijay Singh.

Amazing.


3:42 p.m. ET: As if The Curse wasn't enough of a detriment for these guys to win, it's really been even worse in recent years.

No champ since Padraig Harrington in 2004 has made the cut in the Masters.

As mentioned, Jerry Pate didn't compete in '05, then in succession Ben Crane, Mark O'Meara and Rory Sabbatini each missed the cut the last three years.


3:34 p.m. ET: Here at the course there is a leaderboard showing the player nearest to the hole on each of the nine holes so far.

Some interesting stuff on the board right now. Former U.S. Amateur champ Mitch Voges has the closest shot on No. 3, former PGA champ Wayne Grady has the closest shot on No. 4 and Sandy Lyle has the closest shot on two holes -- Nos. 5 and 7.

And yes, many players who aren't in this week's field -- any previous major champion, U.S. and British Amateur champions -- are invited to play in the Par 3 Contest. Back in 2005, Jerry Pate won this event when he wasn't even in the Masters itself.


3:29 p.m. ET: Uh-oh. Opened up a can of worms. First haiku of the week comes from Merek in Kansas:

Green Augusta grass
Today play the little holes
Try your best to lose.

It's not untrue. I have heard stories of players being in or near the lead heading to the last hole and purposely rinsing one in the pond for fear of becoming the latest player to fall victim to The Curse.


3:27 p.m. ET: By the way, Norman and Evert own 20 career major titles between them. Ha!


3:19 p.m. ET: Another ace from ... Greg Norman!

The Shark's hole-in-one on No. 6 moves him to 3-under, tied for second place, and is rewarded with a big hug from wife/caddie Chris Evert.

Might as well use this space to discuss Norman a little bit. In the 49 radio interviews (literally) that I've done over the past few days, I've been asked about all the storylines here at Augusta this week.

Now, I don't think Norman will actually contend this week, but if there's even the smallest chance he could find himself on the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon, you can have Tiger or Phil or Freddie or Padraig or anyone else ... I'll maintain that such a plot would be the biggest and best story we could see at this week's tournament.

After his losses in 1986 (Nicklaus), '87 (Mize), '96 (Faldo) and '99 (Olazabal), among others, to exorcise some demons at the age of 54 with son Gregory on the bag this week would just be huge.


3:15 p.m. ET: E-mail from Jamie in Parts Unknown:

We all know how the Blog Jinx works, however ... what if in conjunction with the Par-3 Curse they cancel one another out? Could your Blog Jinx somehow in a bizarre way predict the tourney winner?

Interesting thought. Perhaps. Or maybe that player will fail to break 100 this week, suffering the worst of two superstitions. Could be ugly.


3:12 p.m. ET: The usual trio of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player just teed off together a few minutes ago, 13 green jackets between them.

One interesting note on each player ...

• In the Jack Nicklaus Design company's NCAA bracket pool, the Golden Bear correctly predicted North Carolina and Michigan State for the title game, helping him win the money. And yes, he pocketed the cash.

• Ran into Palmer in the Augusta National pro shop yesterday -- not the merch tent, but the actual pro shop in the clubhouse -- as he was purchasing a handful of sweaters and shirts with the Masters logo. Glad to see I'm not the only one who gets asked to buy a few things for family and friends while here.

• Player will compete in his 52nd and final Masters this week. That's 52 weeks of his life at Augusta National. Yes, an entire year of playing the Masters.


3:09 p.m. ET: In second place on the leaderboard right now is reigning PubLinks champ Jack Newman, a current student at Michigan State University, who shot a 3-under 24.

Always nice to see another "Jack N." on the leaderboard at Augusta National.

I watched Newman play a few holes with Zach Johnson and Anthony Kim on Monday, and he was taunted by plenty of, "Go 'Heels!" taunts from behind the gallery ropes. Here's guessing those catcalls haven't dissipated in the time since.

Newman could have had some guys getting his back out here, but blame the NCAA for his Spartan teammates not being allowed to make the trip to cheer him on.

This e-mail from MSU's compliance office was passed on to me by Jim Donatelli, the SID for the school's golf team:

Our golf team was free to go to the Masters, provided they paid for all expenses (e.g., hotel, transportation, food, Masters tickets, greens fees) on their own. NCAA legislation prohibits them from receiving any extra benefits from MSU or boosters. Since this is not an MSU event we could not provide any expenses for the team to go to Augusta, golf and watch Jack. In addition, it would not be permissible for the team to accept any of their expenses from a booster.

C'mon, NCAA. Get a grip.


3:06 p.m. ET: Before you ask, no, Tiger Woods is not taking part in the Par 3 Contest. It's the fifth straight year he's chosen to forgo this ritual, though he's hardly alone -- a number of players have elected not to participate.

Leads to our first e-mail of the week, from Barbara in Parts Unknown:

Do you think maybe Tiger would join the Par-3 Contest again next year with Sam? That would be so cute!

It may be something he decides to do once the kids are a bit older, but he wasn't offering much of an explanation during yesterday's news conference:

Q: Are you going to partake in the Par-3 event tomorrow and if so, will your daughter be on the bag?
Tiger Woods: I am not, and no.

He did say it with a laugh, knowing he wasn't allowing for much inside knowledge, but that's sort of always Tiger's MO, isn't it?


3:00 p.m. ET: If you enjoy watching the opening act before the headliner, if you make sure to catch the entire undercard prior to the main event, if you always put the cart before the horse (sorry, I was running out of comparisons) ... congratulations, you're in the right place.

The 50th annual Par 3 Contest is now under way on the 1,060-yard course adjacent to Augusta National Golf Club -- the calm before the storm, if you will -- and for the second straight year, I'm here to provide a live blog of all the "action" between and around Ike's Pond and DeSoto Springs Pond.

As my colleague Bob Harig just deadpanned, "You know what they say -- it's not over until the back-three on Wednesday."

This is perhaps the only competitive tournament in which the participants all want to play well, but nobody wants to win. How come? Because of ... queue the ominous tones of Beethoven's Fifth ... The Curse.

The dreaded Blog Jinx has nothing on The Curse. Ever since Sam Snead won the first Par-3 Contest in 1960, no winner has claimed a green jacket four days later.

Which means bad news for Tim Clark. The 2006 runner-up -- at the real tournament here, that is -- aced the final hole to shoot a 5-under 22, currently leading the field.

I'll drop plenty more knowledge over the next few hours ... like the fact that there has been 10 more holes-in-one this decade than in any other ... or that Gary Player holds the all-time lead in aces with three ... or that Toshi Izawa and Claude Harmon are the only players to make back-to-back aces ... or that 11 Masters champions have won the Par-3 at some point during their careers ... or that Sam Snead, Isao Aoki, Jay Haas, Sandy Lyle, David Toms and Padraig Harrington are the only players to win multiple titles ... or that ...

Uh, actually, that's all I've got for you.

In that case, I hope you can all bring your A-game to my inbox for the next few hours. As always, hit me at the above e-mail address and I'll post the best questions, comments, suggestions, threats, haikus, limericks, anagrams, rap lyrics and any other nonsense you can come up with. Let's get going ...