Par 3 Contest: A chance to unwind at the Masters

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AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - Lee Westwood’s mum walked away from the ninth hole, waving her hand in front of her face on a balmy spring day.

“I feel sorry for the caddies,” Trish Westwood said with a flushed smile.

At least she wasn’t wearing white coveralls and hauling around heavy bags as the mercury climbed into the mid-80s Wednesday. Still, there was nowhere else she wanted to be.

Such is the appeal of the Par 3 Contest, one of those Masters traditions like no other.

Everyone from moms to small children _ some barely old enough to walk _ take on caddying duties. The greats of the game, long past their prime, thrill the patrons with a few more swings. Technically, they’re keeping score, but everyone knows it’s all for fun. No need to get worked up about these nine holes. That’s for Thursday, after everyone moves over to “the big course.”

“It’s a good way to unwind before the stress of the tournament starts,” Brandt Snedeker said after finishing up. “This is a great way to relax and spend time with your family.”

This picturesque spot _ nine exquisite little holes tucked into the northeast edge of Augusta National Golf Club _ provides another of those quirky trademarks that sets the first major of the year apart from the next three.

Where else can you see a threesome that includes Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player? Where else can you see former top-ranked tennis player Caroline Wozniacki on the bag for her boyfriend, Rory McIlroy? Where else can you find 91-year-old Jack Fleck, who won the 1955 U.S. Open in one of golf’s greatest upsets, taking a few whacks?

“It’s fun down here,” Fred Couples said. “It’s a good little spot.”

Especially when Nicklaus, Palmer and Player _ with 34 major championships among them _ stroll around the “little course” for an hour or so, providing a running commentary on the deteriorating state of their once-mighty games.

After the 83-year-old Palmer sliced one into the water, he joked, “That was my last ball.”

“I can loan you one,” the 73-year-old Nicklaus quipped, as he hunched over to tee up his ball.

“Is my credit good?” Palmer asked.

“Good with me,” Nicklaus said.

The Par 3 Contest was first played at Augusta in 1960, on a course designed by architect George Cobb and club founder Clifford Roberts. There are nine holes covering a tidy 1,060 yards, ranging from the 70-yard second to the 140-yard sixth. As Palmer can attest, there are two bodies of water that can come into play, DeSoto Springs Pond and Ike’s Pond _ named after former president and club member Dwight Eisenhower.

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