Commentary

Masters live blog: Par 3 Contest

Updated: April 9, 2008, 7:20 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Throughout this week, ESPN.com golf editor Jason Sobel will be live blogging from the Masters, bringing you inside information and analysis from Augusta National Golf Club. Refresh this page often to keep track of all the entries during each round.

Have a question or comment for Sobel? E-mail him at mastersblog@gmail.com.

6:00 p.m.: OK, I think the all-time record for "Live Blogging During a Noncompetitive Golf Competition" is safe for now, considering I've outkicked the ESPN coverage by an hour.

More live blogging bright and early at 8 a.m. Thursday, so keep sending those e-mails to the address above and I'll try not to oversleep. No promises.

5:54 p.m.: Miguel Angel Jimenez for birdie … and it's no good! Rory Sabbatini is your Par 3 champion!

Not the first news he's made this week. In case you missed it, Sabbatini said the following to The Sunday Times:

    "Tiger's untouchable, apparently, a protected species. I guess it's like the migratory eagle that [Nationwide Tour professional] Tripp Isenhour shot. If you take aim, you will be prosecuted. He is on a pedestal, unfortunately. You can't even talk about him. … When it comes to making other players uncomfortable, Tiger probably leads the field. We're out there competing. It's the nature of the beast. I'm not out there to be anyone else's cheerleader. I'm out there to do my job. At least with me, people know where they stand. There are never any grey areas."

Anyone else want to see a Tiger Woods/Bubba Watson versus Rory Sabbatini/Steve Elkington match in the Presidents Cup? Can we lobby for this?

5:45 p.m.: No such luck. Jimenez hits to 15 feet, will have the exact same putt that Woody Austin missed to share the lead.

5:43 p.m.: I know I promised I wouldn't do this, but here's a leaderboard update: Miguel Angel Jimenez needs to birdie the final hole or else Rory Sabbatini is the Par 3 champion.

I imagine all the Rory haters out there are rooting for the Mechanic to rinse one off the tee here, huh?

5:35 p.m.: E-mail from Richard in Tuscaloosa, Ala.:

    Do you think the curse of the Par 3 Contest is real?

I'm going to let my friend Padraig Harrington, two-time winner of the event, handle this one:

    "I'll be playing the Par 3 competition and trying to win it again hoping that three times might be a charm. I believe that if you want to put some spin on it superstitious-wise, I believe if you win it twice, you're bound to win the actual event."

Of course, you've got to wonder whether he's breathing a little easier knowing that his 2-under 25 won't take the title this time around.

5:27 p.m.: E-mail from Eugene in Springfield, Mo.:

    When I hear "Par 3," what comes to mind is elongated rubber tube tees adjacent artificial turf tee mats; protection from other hackers on the course via netting or unscaleable walls, and the waft of cheap cigars and empty beer cans all around the trash cans located at every tee. I realize that the Masters is showcasing its Par 3 Contest for the first time today, and I suppose it's somewhat interesting, but my personal preference would be to watch touring PGA pros play the type of Par 3 courses we grew up with next to the city dump or Farmer Ted's strawberry field. I mean, wouldn't you actually pay to see a touring pro absolutely destroy the course record at a real Par 3 course, but having to use the aforementioned rubber tees and artificial mats? This has to be done. I think I'm on to something here.

Great rant.

I actually learned how to play golf at Robert Moses State Park Pitch and Putt Course -- an official name which is much too long for any course of its length. My buddies and I always knew we were in trouble when three of us would show up with a wedge and a putter and just before we teed off, the starter would add a single to make it a foursome; invariably, it would be a nice, elderly lady with an entire set of clubs resting on a pull cart who hit driver off the first tee. That was always … fun.

5:21 p.m.: Woody Austin just missed the putt to tie. Here's the video.

I kid, I kid. He's wearing a much nicer shirt today. But I was serious about him missing the putt.

5:19 p.m.: E-mail from Bart in Tennessee:

    Even money says that if Rory Sabbatini winds up winning the Par 3 Contest, he'll make a comment about Tiger being beatable this weekend (even though he didn't participate today).

It would be ironic that this would be yet another victory for Sabbatini when Woods did not compete. Yes, Rory, Tiger is beatable … especially when he isn't playing!

5:12 p.m.: Woody Austin is one off the lead with one to play. Personally, I think it'd be pretty humorous of him to repeat his post-Zurich Classic tirade should he not birdie the final hole:

    "I choked my guts out. That's all I can say. I flat-out choked. I played like a dog the last nine holes. When you're in the lead and you play that poorly for nine holes, you're choking. I'm not afraid to admit it. I always battle my nerves and some days I battle them better than others. All I did today was I probably putted the best I've putted in my career just to have a chance, because I was puking my guts out."

He'll have an uphill 15-footer to tie, in case you were wondering.

5:01 p.m.: We have a winner in the little-white-jumpsuit-answer contest. From Jeff in Elmhurst, Ill.:

    All the little caddie outfits are on loan from Ian Woosnam. He takes care of them all year long.

Uh-oh. A Woosie reference. You know what that means. Can't mention his name without posting this.

4:57 p.m.: Let's get this question from Kevin in Chapel Hill, N.C., out of the way before the real tournament starts and we spend any real time talking about it:

    Speaking of Hooters, have you seen or heard whether or not John Daly is setting up shop again?

According to an Augusta Chronicle report, he will not be on Washington Road this week.

4:52 p.m.: The annual Champions Dinner was last night and Zach Johnson's hometown Des Moines Register reported what would be served beforehand:

    "Midwest home-cooking and some Florida flair, if you will," Johnson said today.

    The main course will be corn-fed beef.

    "Go figure," Johnson said.

    There also will be ahi tuna for those who don't want steak

    "And shrimp," Johnson added. "My wife [Kim] is from Amelia Island, so that's a shrimp mecca. And I've got corn, obviously. I think we've got corn casserole, or, if I'm not mistaken, corn pudding."

    And there will be more.

    "We've got some crab cakes, because this is a crab cake area. Some good vegetables, salads and I think there's a bisque. So it's going to be pretty good."

No pimento cheese sandwiches?

4:45 p.m.: E-mail from Martin in Jacksonville, Fla.:

    Tell the truth: How many egg salad sandwiches have you had? They are sooooo good and soooo cheap!

I was going to wait until tomorrow to divulge this major breaking news, but it's going to be an ongoing theme all week anyway, so I might as well do it now. Unlike previous years, when Augusta National's press room served only the same green-wrappered sandwiches that are served on the course, there is now an entire hot food "cafeteria" in the building, with some pretty tasty meals available all during the day.

Apparently they didn't think we golf writers were overweight and lazy enough already. Now we have absolutely no reason to ever leave this place.

That said, the sandwiches are still available. And if you ask nicely, I'll provide a bite-by-bite live blog analysis of a pimento cheese sandwich lunch sometime tomorrow.

4:40 p.m.: I'm just wondering out loud here, but what does Augusta National do with all those children's-sized white jumpsuits during the rest of the year?

4:33 p.m.: In case anyone cares, I have confirmation that I made a mistake earlier (the over/under is 87.5 for the week, so this is no surprise): Steve Flesch did not make a hole-in-one. Instead, he "Pulled a Freddie," emulating Couples' turn at TPC-Sawgrass' 17th hole a few years back when he dumped the first tee shot in the water and holed the next one for par.

4:26 p.m.: Interviewing Nicklaus, Player and Palmer, Andy North just asked the following:

North: "Is there a chance we could see this threesome someday on a Thursday morning?"
Nicklaus: "Depends on which Thursday."

Now, that's a guy who knows his way around an interview!

By the way, here's a great stat for you: Of the four people just mentioned, North has the second-most U.S. Open titles with two -- the same number as Player and Palmer combined.

4:22 p.m.: This live blog is sooo global. E-mail from Anders Dielessen in Utrecht, The Netherlands, with an answer to an earlier question:

    The reason why Wayne Grady is at Augusta is because he is part of the BBC crew which covers the Masters. Kind of strange that a Dutchman has to tell an American why an Australian who is working for a British broadcaster has to clarify this!

So there you go: Not only did Wayne Grady not have to fly himself here on his own dime, he can expense his meals at T-Bonz and Hooters all week. Good times.

4:15 p.m.: E-mail from Todd in Chicago:

    Shooting your age is a pretty big accomplishment for a golfer. What's the equivalent on a Par 3 course? Shooting the number of clubs in your bag (tough when only carrying a handful of clubs)? Shooting your shoe size?

Great question. The course record is 20 (Art Wall in 1965 and Gay Brewer in 1973), so unless Shaq was playing here, I'm not sure shoe size would work.

Maybe waist size? Weight in stone (one-fourteenth of a pound)? IQ divided by five? (Uh, nothing against Wall or Brewer with that last one, of course.)

Anyone got anything better?

4:08 p.m.: As you may have seen, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player are all playing together today. Here's a great excerpt from Ian O'Connor's newly released book, "Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf's Greatest Rivalry." (By the way, I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I've heard this is a terrific book. Of course, it was Ian who told me it was terrific, so take that for what it's worth.)

    Nicklaus wasn't happy the first time around in 2000, only two years after he threatened to write the greatest golf story of all time by nearly winning the Masters at fifty-eight.

    Following his opening round in 2000, Nicklaus decided to practice rather than join Palmer and Player for a TV interview and a news conference; he later appeared for both alone, once Arnold and Gary were done. "A childish performance," wrote the author John Feinstein for America Online.

    Jack didn't want to cause too much of a stir; he'd just been honored at the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame with a statue depicting his victorious, post-putt pose on the seventeenth green at the 1986 Masters. But he couldn't understand how a player who had outscored Tiger Woods two years earlier could be lumped in with the older, noncompetitive tandem of Palmer and Player. Especially Palmer.

    On the final hole of their second round, Arnold needed multiple swings to get his ball out of a bunker. "Hit it harder," Jack barked at him. "I want to play."

    Nicklaus missed his par putt from seven feet but shot two-under 70 to land six strokes off David Duval's lead. Palmer, meanwhile, finished his tournament at sixteen over and trudged off the green without shaking Nicklaus's hand.

    "Arnold never said he enjoyed playing with me and Gary, never shook our hands," Jack said. "That was probably the most irritated I ever was at Arnold."

For the record, I was just kidding about Ian saying the book is terrific. I've actually heard that from many others.

4:04 p.m.: E-mail from Michael in New Jersey:

    Since we hear so little about it, can you post the scorecard for the Par 3 course?

Done.

No. 1: 130 yards
No. 2: 70 yards
No. 3: 90 yards
No. 4: 130 yards
No. 5: 130 yards
No. 6: 140 yards
No. 7: 115 yards
No. 8: 120 yards
No. 9: 135 yards

3:56 p.m.: E-mail from Rob in Dallas:

    Since the members at Augusta National have said that they are allowing ESPN to televise the Par 3 tournament as a way to grow the game of golf, should Tiger be playing in it? I know that all players can decide if they want to or not, but if that is the reason that we get to see it, shouldn't the No. 1 draw in golf be a part of it?

I always have a problem when others say that Tiger (or any other player, really, but especially Tiger) should or shouldn't do something -- whether it's competing in a certain tournament, or giving money to charity or anything else.

How would you feel if the boss invited you to a company picnic, but you had better things to do … and then Tiger called and said you should go to the picnic? (OK, bad example; I'm guessing if Tiger called, you'd probably listen.)

In any case, this is nothing new. Here's what Jack Nicklaus said recently:

    "I never played it in the years that I had a chance to win. Two reasons. I suppose one, I'm a little superstitious like everybody else. The reason that I didn't play a lot was that I think you play a practice round on Wednesday preparing yourself for a golf tournament. Is it too much to ask the players to play? No, it's not too much. But in the days when I was competitive and felt like I had a chance, I had so much energy focused on wanting to win that golf tournament that it was a distraction for me and nothing I wanted to do. As time went on, and I'm not a serious competitor anymore, I didn't spend all that energy. So it was fun to go play it and enjoy it."

I wonder if anyone criticized Nicklaus for not playing the Par 3 Contest some 40 years ago?

3:45 p.m.: Brad in Harrisburg, Pa., is using up his weekly allotment of e-mail questions in the first hour of the Par 3 Contest:

    1. You always see a kid putting with his dad on a hole. Are there specific rules for this thing or is it that casual?

According to the rulebook, there's a two-stroke penalty assessed every time a noncompetitor hits the ball, with the ball to be placed at the original spot. No, I'm kidding. It's casual. No rules.

    2. Is there a prize for the winner?

Yes, you're out of contention for the actual Masters. Congrats!

    3. You're telling me that a major champion from 1989 flew himself there to play a nine-hole Par 3 tournament??? I know it's the Masters and all, but it's still a nine-hole Par 3 tournament on your own dime with no discernable prize for winning. What was Wayne's take from the PGA Championship, you ask?? $225,000!

I don't know why he's here, but I'm guessing Grady may have had some other business in town this week. That said, if someone offered you a chance to play practice rounds at the Masters, compete in the Par 3 and watch the tourney, wouldn't you do it?

3:38 p.m.: Since Johnson Wagner is in second place (3-under through five holes), it gives me a reason to write something quick about him. I had spoken with Johnson on the phone and via e-mail in the past but never in person before. Might be one of the nicest guys on tour, though I guess it's tough to not be in a good mood when you're coming off a win on Sunday to qualify for the Masters.

Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen a player smile so much in advance of a tournament. Guy has had an ear-to-ear grin all week.

How happy is he to be here? At 6 p.m. yesterday, when most players were already home eating dinner, Wagner was on the practice green with caddie Steven Hale having a little putting contest at all sorts of holes -- Johnson using his putter, Steven rolling a ball with his hand. If the sun hadn't set, they looked like they might have stayed there all night.

3:34 p.m.: OK, Brian in South Carolina made me laugh. He might get me fired for posting this, but he made me laugh …

    Thank goodness they didn't ask Shawn Kemp or Evander Holyfield to play in this Par 3 Contest. There would be a three-hour back-up on the tees if Shawn let all of his kids putt out on the last hole.

(Biting my tongue …)

3:31 p.m.: I'm going to be VERY careful in posting this next e-mail from reader Gregory:

    There are rumors going around that he tried to stiff an Augusta National member on a big bet he lost (well over $100,000) within the last few weeks. I understand you guys probably want no part of that, but for the love of God encourage SOMEBODY with less to lose to look into that!

OK, here's the deal, people: I've been sent a link to this story (which I won't post here for obvious reasons) numerous times in the past few days. It is totally, completely, 100 percent false -- a really poorly done April Fools' joke gone wrong.

In fact, the beginning of the "story" said that it came from "Golfweek Insider," but I've spoken with a staffer from that magazine who told me that not only is it a fabrication but Golfweek has spoken with Mickelson to ensure that he knows they did not print this news, and Phil intimated that there might be legal recourse in the future.

So, if someone sends you the story, feel free to read it and know it's wrong, then hit the delete key.

3:26 p.m.: E-mail from Paul in Virginia:

    You kind of brushed aside the aces by Freddie and Wayne Grady. Are they that common for pros on a Par 3 course?

Yep, pretty much. In 48 previous Par 3 Contests, there have been 63 holes-in-one.

3:21 p.m.: About 30 minutes ago, I ran into Colin Byrne, the caddie for Retief Goosen, sitting on a bench outside of the clubhouse. We had a nice exchange. (I should mention that the tape recorder wasn't rolling, so this is all paraphrased):

Me: Are you guys playing the Par 3?
Colin: No.
Me: Have you before?
Colin: Yes.
Me: So why not this year?
Colin: [Shrug].

Tough reporters ask the tough questions and that's how we get these classic answers. If there are any journalism professors out there, feel free to use this for Interviewing 101.

3:15 p.m.: Ace for Steve Flesch. This course isn't as easy as it looks, though. From Augusta native Charles Howell III:

    "The course is probably underrated. Most people don't even realize that it's over there. The Par 3 Contest gives it popularity. But the greens are every bit as good as the golf course. It's maintained every bit as well. It's kind of an extension of Augusta National, it just keeps going."

3:12 p.m.: First e-mail of the week comes from Gabriel in Phoenix:

    I have nothing against Phil Mickelson; he's played well a couple of times this year. But why do you give him so much praise to win? I think Geoff [Ogilvy] has a better chance than him, even though Tiger will win it.

Ah, great e-mail, Gabriel. You must be referring to my ranking of the entire field, in which I agree with you on Tiger, agree with you on Ogilvy and don't necessarily praise Mickelson by ranking him sixth.

But yeah, other than that, you're dead on. Thanks for straightening me out.

Good start, readers. At this pace, you're going to collectively miss the cut by 12.

3:07 p.m.: How do top players feel about competing in a fun little competition just before the year's biggest event? Let's ask 'em …

Here's Phil Mickelson, who is once again playing in the Par 3 Contest:

    "It's a great way to relieve of some of the stress or pressure you feel heading into a major. Guys really have fun on the nine holes and someone like myself who has little children who caddie, we as parents look back on those pictures and those memories, and sharing that time together is some of the greatest time we have had together in the game. I think that's such a great element to this tournament."

And here's Tiger Woods, who once again isn't playing:

    "It's changed over the years. Used to be, I thought was a lot of fun to play, but now it is a little bit distracting to get ready and be ready for the tournament."

If you're a Phil person, you'll probably cite this as a great example of how Mickelson connects with his fans on a better level than Woods.

If you're a Tiger person, you'll probably cite this as a great example of how Woods is more focused on winning majors than Mickelson.

Me? I don't think it means much of anything, really. Just two guys with different viewpoints.

3:03 p.m.: Plenty of Par 3 action so far. Fred Couples aced the seventh, Wayne Grady aced the ninth.

I'll cut you off and ask the question so you don't have to: What the heck is Wayne Grady doing there?

All former major champions are invited to compete in the Par 3 Contest, as are U.S. and British Amateur champs and any honorary invitees. Grady won the 1990 PGA Championship.

Believe me, I won't be methodically updating the leaderboard throughout, but it's worth noting that everyone's favorite everything, Rory Sabbatini, is the clubhouse leader after shooting a 5-under 22. Take that, Tiger!

3:00 p.m.: Good afternoon from Augusta National Golf Club, where I'll be providing minute-by-minute analysis and commentary for the next few hours. Hey, the competitors in this week's Masters Tournament each get a chance to play a few practice rounds, so why can't the live bloggers? My official Masters live blog won't begin until Thursday morning at 8 a.m. sharp (so you won't miss one exciting second from the Ben Curtis/Shaun Micheel opening pairing!), but I'm trying to get some good swing thoughts going and the Par 3 Contest seemed like the perfect opportunity to start a smaller yet identical version of the real deal.

I think I shall call him … Mini-Me!

(Before you ask, yes, I believe this is the world's first-ever live blog of a noncompetitive golf competition, if that makes any sense. And to think my high school guidance counselor never thought I'd amount to anything.)

Never heard of the Par 3 Contest? You must be the type who flips the channel while SportsCenter is in commercial, considering all the recent promos for the event. Being televised for the first time (check your TV, I'll wait …), the Par 3 Contest is played on a nine-hole course (well, 11, really, but only nine are used for the Contest) adjacent to the tournament venue that measures 1,060 total yards, with holes ranging from 70-140 yards. It was first introduced in 1960, and since then no player has pulled off the Double -- winning both the Par 3 Contest and the Masters in the same week.

OK, enough with the history lesson. Players are on the course already and there's plenty of stuff to talk about.

If you're new to the live blog, welcome. Here's how it works: I'll keep writing, you keep hitting the refresh button. Got a question, suggestion or just want to know where you can remit payment for increasing the user experience? Hit the e-mail link at the top of this page (mastersblog@gmail.com) and I'll read it. And as always, make me laugh and you're guaranteed to make the blog. OK, let's get going …

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.