One of the Masters’ greatest traditions is back and better than ever

Rory McIlroy holds his daughter, Poppy, as wife Erica looks on at the Masters Par-3 Contest on Wednesday.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters Par-3 Contest started an hour late on Wednesday, but no one seemed to mind. They had waited long enough already.

The last time it was played was in 2019, three years ago, four days before Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters green jacket. A lot has happened since. With Tiger. With the world.

The par-3 event was canceled, of course, due to the pandemic. There were no patrons for the 2020 November Masters and a limited number last year. But Wednesday finally felt like it should at the Masters. A sense of normalcy was in the air.

The Par-3 was supposed to begin at noon, but late-morning storms suspended play and the course was evacuated. Unlike Tuesday, though, it opened back up. Patrons were allowed back in at 12:45 p.m. and the Par-3 Contest started at 1 p.m.

Tommy Fleetwood and his son, Oscar.

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Charl Schwartzel hit the first shot (to two feet). Trevor Immelman hit the second (missed green) and Louis Oosthuizen the third (spun off the green). Then they were off — and one of the traditions that makes the Masters so special was officially back.

Schwartzel’s toddler son started crying on the second tee box. His daughter made his putt on the second green. Mike Weir made a birdie putt on the first hole and Nick Faldo made a sweeping gesture as if he was a member of a curling team. Schwartzel’s son was back again on the third green, this time trying to pick up a rolling ball via a long Immelman putt. (He wasn’t quick enough, and the putt dropped in for a 2.)

The Masters is a serious tournament at a serious club. The Masters Par-3 Contest is not serious. Maybe that’s why it fits in so well.

Tiger Woods and Fred Couples on Wednesday at the Masters.
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What we love about the Masters is that it’s the same every year, so we never get disappointed. There are few surprises. We know the pimento will taste like pimento and we’ll be halfway through eating our first when we realize that that’s probably good enough for one year. We know the flowers will bloom and Rae’s Creek will gobble up balls on the weekend. We know the golf course will be green and the finish will hold some late drama.

This is Jon Rahn’s sixth Masters. His wife, Kelley, has caddied for him in the Par-3 Contest before, but this was the first time he had his son, Kepa, along.

“It’s a really cool tradition,” Rahm, holding Kepa, told ESPN’s Marty Smith prior to teeing off. “In the past it’s been me and Kelley and really fun, but” — Kepa grabbed the mic, pausing the interview — “it’s really good to get your mind off things and realize what’s important.”

This was the first time in several years Jack Nicklaus didn’t play. His last contest was in 2019, and on Wednesday he said he’s now had all 22 grandkids caddie for him in the Masters Par-3 Contest. He figured it was as good a time as any to hang it up after 30 appearances.

Nicklaus’ wife, Barbara, recorded a voiceover for an ESPN tribute dedicated to Nicklaus’ time in the Masters Par-3 Contest. She said the Par-3 gave the world a view of the “softer, loving, human side,” of Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus, watching for the first time, teared up. He won’t play in the event again, but today’s stars will. It’s in good hands.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

Josh Berhow is the managing editor at GOLF.com. The Minnesota native graduated with a journalism degree from Minnesota State University in Mankato. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.