The 2018 Masters Tournament is heavy with anticipation of greatness about to happen.
Thanks to two-time Masters Champion Tom Watson, the Par-3 Contest “hex” – as he calls it – won’t be part of the story.
The 68-year-old Watson turned back the clock Wednesday and shot 6-under-par 21, winning by a stroke over Tommy Fleetwood and Thomas Pieters.
Playing in a threesome with fellow golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Watson rolled in six birdies and three pars and needed all of that great play just to win his threesome.
Six-time champion 78-year-old Jack Nicklaus tied for fourth at 4 under, while 82-year-old three-time champ Player tied for 10th at 2 under.
“Old guys prevail,” said Watson, whose birdies at Nos. 7 and 8 propelled him to the win. “Look at Tiger Woods at 42 and then Phil Mickleson. What is he 47 or 48? You better watch out for the old guys this week.”
Watson was the top highlight of many at the annual event, in which players enjoy themselves with wives, girlfriends, kids and parents as their caddies in a precursor to Thursday’s pressure-packed opening tournament day.
Plus, Watson made sure none of the players in this year's field have to worry about the renowned Par-3 jinx.
No player winning the Par 3 has ever won the Masters in the same week.
“There is no hex since I’m not playing in the big tournament,” Watson said. “So there is no pressure there.”
Watson said he’s not about to turn Wednesday’s magic into a tee time today.
“The big course is too big for old folks like me,” Watson said. “I can’t hit it far enough.”
Watson opened with three birdies Wednesday then, instead of a nice casual afternoon of golf, focused on trying to win.
“The competitive juices did get going,” Watson said. “When I birdied the first three holes and made the putt at No. 3, I said, ‘Let’s see if I can win this thing.’"
Nicklaus was at 4-under through six holes and said he had good looks at birdie on the final three but this was Watson’s moment in the sun.
“It did get competitive but Watson kept knocking the ball in the hole,” Nicklaus said. “For the first eight holes Tom had six putts and when you do that you are going to shoot a low score. He did great. I’m proud of him for that.
“I finished fourth, not too bad for an old guy. With Gary and Tom on the leaderboard, that’s a pretty good group.”
Nicklaus’ highlight of the day wasn’t his round, but rather watching his 15-year-old grandson and caddie, G.T., ace No. 9 with a wedge shot that sent a roar across the grounds.
“My wins here are OK, but to watch your grandson make his first hole in, that’s my No. 1 memory here,” Nicklaus said. “That was just pretty neat.”
Pretty neat as well was when Justin Thomas called a young boy named Will out of the crowd to putt out for him on No. 8 and he sank it to the delight of the fans.
“The only time I came to the Masters growing up was when I was 10,” Thomas said. “It was on a Wednesday and I remember a player asking a kid to come out and putt and I was so jealous. I was like that would be the coolest thing to ever do. ... I asked two kids before Will and they said no. He didn’t want to come out at first but his dad talked him into it. He was so nervous and I was nervous for him.”
Other Wednesday highlights included holes-in-one by Dylan Frittelli and Tony Finau – though Finau's was followed by a celebration in the fairway in which he appeared to injure his ankle. Soon after, Matt Kuchar’s 10-year-old son Cameron sunk a lengthy putt on No. 9.
“It was awesome,” said Cameron who jumped in his dad’s arms after making the putt and signed a few autographs.
“That was pretty neat,” Kuchar said.
And Watson's highlight? He said forget about the win.
“Most importantly it was fun playing with Jack and Gary,” Watson said. “We have been playing for years and years. To cap it off with G.T., Jack’s grandson, making a hole in one on the last hole, Jack crying like a baby. There could not have been a better scene in golf.”