AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Gary Player kicked his right leg into the air, hugged his granddaughter Alex and grandson Paul and received congratulations from playing competitors Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. No, this was not the 1978 Masters, when Player won his third and final Green Jacket with a one-shot victory over Watson and was four better than Nicklaus.
This was the Par-3 contest on the eve of the 2016 Masters, when the 80-year-old South African fired a hole-in-one at the 115-yard seventh hole, one of a record nine aces made by the field on Wednesday to shatter the old mark of five.
“That’s number 31,” as in career hole-in-ones, a delighted Player told Watson as they walked off the tee.
Watson will begin his final Masters on Thursday, while Player and Nicklaus ended their competitive days at Augusta National in 2009 and 2005, respectively.
“I played with Jack last year (in the Par-3 contest) and he made one,” Player said. “He told me it was my turn this year.”
The Par-3 contest has been a tradition at Augusta National since 1960, when Sam Snead won the inaugural exhibition. Former champions, current players and special invitees play in the event. Family members and friends caddie and often participate with an occasional tee shot or putt.
No Par-3 contest winner has gone on to win the Masters in the same year, a trend American Jimmy Walker hopes to buck after triumphing on Wednesday.
Walker also recorded a hole-in-one in his eight-under-par 19, three shots better than Americans Craig Stadler and Keegan Bradley.
But this day never has been about the lowest score, it has been about fun, family and reflections.
For Aussie Marc Leishman, it was an emotional trip around the par-3 course. His wife Audrey, young sons Harvey and Ollie, walked alongside him in caddie white overalls.
A year ago, Leishman withdrew from the year’s first major after Audrey was hospitalized with a life-threatening bacterial infection, from which she has now recovered.
Caddie Carl Jackson also looked to be back in good health, carrying the clubs of two-times Masters winner Ben Crenshaw.
The youthful group of Americans Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas jumped around the fourth tee like children when Fowler followed a hole-in-one from Thomas with one of his own. Spieth could not follow suit.
“After two hole-in-ones, you got to man up and hit the shot,” Fowler said. “Justin couldn’t do it.”
Editing by Andrew Both