For almost 20 years, Ernie Els had a standing invite to the Masters.
Last year, his name wasn’t on the guest list.
This year, he’s back after a surprise victory at the 2012 British Open gave him a get-in-free card for the next five years.
“That’s all you can ask for at my age,” the 43-year-old said Wednesday. “To be able to play with the top players in the world at this level for the next five years means the world.”
From the first time he played here, there’s been something about Augusta National that agrees with Els. He tied for eighth in his debut in 1994. He’s been runner-up twice, in 2000 and 2004, and never finished lower than sixth in the years in between.
Potter wins Par 3
Ted Potter Jr. has won the Par 3 Contest at Augusta National, the lighthearted precursor to the first major of the year.
Potter won on the second playoff hole Wednesday, making a birdie at No. 9 to beat Matt Kuchar. Phil Mickelson was eliminated on the first extra hole.
Still, don’t bet on Potter to win the Masters.
No winner of the Par 3 Contest has gone on to win the green jacket. The Masters begins Thursday, with Tiger Woods an overwhelming favorite.
Oh, just skip it
Paul Azinger was playing a practice round with Mark Calcavecchia and Ken Green in 1988 when the trio arrived at the 16th, a 170-yard par-3 over a pond that stretches from the tee to a severely sloping green. To spice things up, each anted up $100 to be awarded to whoever could skip the ball across the water and onto the putting surface.
In the years since, the sophisticated Masters galleries are in on the joke, practically demanding that every group playing the 16th do the same.
“Nowadays, you get booed if you don’t go along,” Azinger recalled on the 25th anniversary of that singular event.
Lefties are all right
The story goes that Mike Weir was 13 and unsure if golf could accommodate the interest of a lefthander. So he decided to write a letter to a person who probably would know, and Jack Nicklaus’ reply went something like this: If you think you can do better righthanded, then swing righthanded.
“But if you like it and you’re a natural and so forth,” Nicklaus recalled writing, “you’ll do fine.”
Weir certainly has, and his 2003 triumph at the Masters was notable for beginning a stretch that came out of left field: It was the first green jacket by a lefty, and four more have followed, a stretch of five southpaw victories in the last decade capped by Bubba Watson’s a year ago.