The Masters: Nicklaus, Watson, & Player Thrill Augusta Crowds in Pre-Tournament Festivities

This is why I love sports. The highs, the lows, the drama, nothing impacts people like the thrill of competition when it touches our emotions.

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The Masters, golf’s most illustrious tournament, has provided a countless number of thrills over the years. But none, quite possibly, were as heart-warming as Wednesday’s events leading up to this year’s tournament.

The game of golf, more so than any other sport, is one that can be played over almost an entire lifetime. Young people standing on practice tees dreaming of being the next Tiger Woods. Seniors playing a leisurely 9 holes on a summer afternoon for some sun, exercise, and camaraderie.

Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel / Associated Press

Since 1960, on the day before the first round of the Masters, Augusta National hosts its annual Par 3 Tournament. The nine-hole competition is a fan favorite as patrons line the length of every fairway rows deep. It’s also a fun event that often features family members caddying for their husband, father, or grandfather. Players include current competitors and some of golf’s biggest retired champions.

Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher / USA TODAY Sports

The Par 3 Tournament over the years has gained a reputation. Some call it a jinx as the winner of Wednesday’s event has never gone on to win the Masters the same year. Many of the professionals have their caddy, significant other, children, even spectators putt for them or take a swing at the green. A large percentage of competitors do not turn in an official scorecard.

This year the crowd in attendance was treated to an afternoon of nostalgia, and unforgettable highlights. Gary Player, the 82-year-old South African, led a threesome of fellow seniors. The greatest of all-time, Jack Nicklaus (78) and eight-time Majors winner Tom Watson (68) joined Player. Much to the delight of the Augusta National patrons. The trio quickly moved up the leaderboard as tee shots settled hole high and putts found the bottom of the cup.

Photo Credit: Mike Segar / Reuters

Watson birdied the first four holes, Nicklaus and Player both drained putts that brought huge roars from the gallery. With four holes to play Watson trailed, leader in the clubhouse, Tommy Fleetwood by a single stroke as crowds swelled around the threesome imploring them to recreate the magic of year’s past.

Nicklaus and Player made runs at the top spot but could not sink the key putt, rolling numerous chances just past the cup. Watson however, came through with birdies on two of the final four holes posting a six under par score that held up for the win.

Highlights

If a past champion winning the Par 3 Tournament over competitors decades his junior was not enough, the patrons were treated to some amazing highlights. Tony Finau, the 34th ranked player in the world, aced the 7th hole then dislocated his ankle celebrating the shot. Unbelievably he pops the joint back in himself. Then goes on to shoot a four-under-par 68 on the first day of the Masters. Good enough for a second-place tie two strokes behind leader Jordan Spieth. (WARNING: The video is graphic!)

 

Trick Putt

Bubba Watson drains a ridiculous trick putt using a wedge to knock the ball past the hole only to have it reverse course and dive into the cup.

The Best Shot of the Day

Nothing brings joy to the heart of a parent or grandparent than seeing their offspring accomplish something spectacular. The success of a child often overshadows personal accomplishments in the eyes of a parent. Scoring the winning goal, hitting the game-deciding basket at the buzzer, the walk-off home run that earns a championship. These feats regardless of the size of the venue are precious memories.

Such was the case on the final hole of the 2018 Marter’s Par 3 Tournament. After all three players hit the green with their final tee shots Jack Nicklaus askes grandson Gary Nicklaus Jr. if he wants to take a swing. The young man tees it up, takes a practice swing then hits a perfect shot that lands on the middle of the green. The ball begins to roll towards the hole. Slowing to a crawl it inches towards the cup as thousands of fans urge the ball to keep moving. With one final turn, the ball tips over the edge and falls to the hole. Pandemonium erupts on the tee and amongst those surrounding the fairway.

The Crowning Event of a Lifetime in Golf

Jack Nicklaus grabs his grandson in a bear hug after the golden moment (pun intended). The six-time Masters winner and 18-time major’s champion hugged the boy as tears formed in his eyes. Watson and Player joined in the celebration slapping backs, pumping fists and sharing hugs of their own. A magical moment at the home of golf’s grandest arena. Here is what Jack had to say.

That in itself is a remarkable statement. Congratulations to the Nicklaus family and thanks for sharing this moment with us. Only in the marvelous world of sports.