Tuesday 17 October 2017

Jimmy Walker confident of Masters success despite the 'curse' of the Par 3 champion

Jimmy Walker of the United States celebrates with wife Erin Stiegemeier and child during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2016 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Jimmy Walker of the United States celebrates with wife Erin Stiegemeier and child during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2016 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Phil Casey

American Jimmy Walker was a popular man heading into the first round of the 80th Masters on Thursday after eagerly shouldering the ''curse'' of the par-three champion.

Since the pre-tournament contest started in 1960, nobody has ever become par-three and Masters champion in the same week, a fact which sometimes sees players deliberately not shoot the best score possible.

That was not the case for Walker however, who set a new record of just 19 shots for the picturesque par-three course in the grounds of Augusta National, carding a hole-in-one and six birdies to finish eight under par.

The 37-year-old's ace on the second was one of nine in total, beating the previous record of five, with 80-year-old Gary Player becoming the oldest competitor to make a hole-in-one when he holed out on the seventh.

Asked about ending the "curse", Walker told ESPN: "I think we'll do it. I've been playing really well. I came here to win. The par-three is a showcase of having fun and maybe it shows I need to have my kids out on the golf course with me a little more.

"It was sweet. I almost aced the first, then did ace the second and just kept hitting it close."

The most spectacular action came on the 130-yard fourth, where Justin Thomas found the bottom of the cup and then saw playing partner Rickie Fowler do exactly the same.

That left the final member of the group, none other than defending champion Jordan Spieth, to try to make it an amazing hat-trick, but the world number two came up short of the flag - and was jokingly booed by the crowd.

"I said it might have been the hardest shot I ever hit, trying to follow them," Spieth told ESPN.

Andy Sullivan, David Lingmerth, Webb Simpson, Smylie Kaufman were the other players to record holes-in-one, with Sullivan doing so on the fifth.

"I was complaining about the crowd not cheering," Sullivan said. "Emiliano (Grillo) had hit it to a foot and they did nothing. Then they just went nuts and erupted. My first time around the par-three and to get a hole in one, it's fantastic."

Most players treat the event as light relief and invite family or friends to act as their caddies, but Rory McIlroy, who had One Direction singer Niall Horan on his bag last year, opted out.

The world number three is focused on winning a first green jacket to complete the career grand slam and had plenty of time to ponder the prospect as the last player out in the 89-man field, shortly after 2pm local time.

England's Danny Willett was also among the later starters and admitted he was still on a "tired cloud nine" following the birth of his first child last week.

"I'm happy to be here, but it was tough leaving them," Willett said of his wife Nicole and son Zachariah. "I'm happy to be back here because it is a great place and it would have been a terrible shame to miss it, but if that had been the case then that's what I'd have done.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to play, so now I'm here I just want to enjoy it and make the most of it."

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