Ernie Els, Nick Watney and Bo van Pelt went into the first round of the 77th US Masters today with their hopes of claiming a first Green Jacket very much alive.
All three men had chances to win yesterday’s traditional par-three contest at Augusta National, but knew that no winner of the event has ever gone on to become Masters champion in the same week since its inception in 1960.
Van Pelt took no chances after reaching the ninth green at five under par, letting his sons – who were acting as his caddie – to take a putt each and therefore ensure his score could not count.
That left Els, Watney, Ted Potter, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar all tied on four under par, but Els and Watney – who had fired a hole-in-one on the ninth - declined to compete in a sudden death play-off.
Kuchar, Potter and Mickelson returned to the eighth hole and three-time Masters winner Mickelson was eliminated when he could not match the birdies of his opponents, and Potter then clinched the unwanted title with another birdie on the ninth.
Potter will need to defy the odds still further to win the Green Jacket on Sunday. He is playing his first Masters and no debutant has won at Augusta since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, seeking a fourth victory in the contest, finished one shot behind on three under and two-time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw had a hole-in-one on the seventh, but world number two Rory McIlroy was several over par.
McIlroy had tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki acting as his caddie and let her hit his tee shot on the ninth, only to see her duff it a few yards into the water.
Most players treat the event – first played in 1960 – as light relief and invite family or friends to act as their caddies, including the “Big Three” of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, who were due to hit ceremonial drives as honorary starters for the tournament proper this morning.
The early starters – Sandy Lyle was in the first group out at 8am local time on the 25th anniversary of his victory – could have an advantage with thunderstorms possible in the afternoon, meaning Tiger Woods would be keen to make a good start in his bid for a fifth win alongside Luke Donald and Scott Piercy at 10:45am.
But McIlroy could see his round disrupted after being paired with Keegan Bradley – who he beat in the Ryder Cup singles at Medinah last year – and Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson in the penultimate group at 1:41pm.