AUGUSTA — When Nick Watney realized he had aced the No. 9 hole during Wednesday’s Par-3 Tournament, his first thought was to take a flying leap into Ike’s Pond.
“But I guess I chickened out,” he said sheepishly.
The hole-in-one vaulted the 31-year-old into a tie for first place with Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson at 4-under par.
Watney lofted a 55-degree wedge to accomplish the feat. He celebrated with a few awkward chest bumps.
“Yeah, I’m not sure what that was,” he said. “I’m sure we looked like fools, but it was fun.”
Both Watney and Els speculated their scores would not be good enough to win. They were wrong.
Bo Van Pelt raced past the bottleneck and carried a 5-under to the No. 9 tee, but then let his children do the putting. They bogeyed the hole and his final score was disqualified. Ted Potter Jr. and Matt Kuchar joined the 4-under crowd by day’s end.
It’s considered somewhat taboo to win the Par-3 Tournament — no one has won it and the Masters in the same year.
Later, Ben Crenshaw, who is competing in his 42nd Masters, aced the 115-yard No. 7.
As is the tradition for the event, many golfers were creative in their choice of caddy. Ricky Fowler turned to his grandmother.
Grandma Fowler was supposed to have knee surgery, but she put it off when her grandson extended the invitation to make the trip out from Utah.
“All the sudden, her knee felt pretty good today,” Fowler said with a smile.
The most humorous turn belonged to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, who was caddying for her boyfriend, Rory McIlroy. Wozniacki took a wedge from McIlroy’s bag and her subsequent attempt at a tee shot struck her leg before plunging in the water after 10 yards.
Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne announced several changes to The Masters qualifying process after it was decided to extend the tournament’s “win and you’re in” qualification to post-Fed Ex Cup tour events.
“With the reality thereby of adding competitors to our field, we have decided to amend three of our qualifications in an effort to maintain a similar field size for the 2014 tournament,” Payne said.
• The top 12 finishers in this year’s tournament will qualify, down from the top 16.
• The top four, not the top eight, will qualify from the U.S. Open.
• The year-end, top-30 PGA tour money list winners qualification will be removed.
There will also be an in-tournament change that will affect this year’s field.
“At the conclusion of the first two rounds, we will be increasing our cut to 50 players and ties, plus those within 10 strokes of the leader,” Payne said.
Bubba bombs away
Defending champion Bubba Watson aced No. 16 during his Wednesday practice round.
Watson used a 9-iron from 160 yards out to conquer a hole that has been aced 15 times in tournament history.
Earlier Wednesday, club chairman Billy Payne was asked about the possibility of a marker being placed near the spot in the woods on the No. 10 hole where Watson made his shot en route to winning last year’s tournament.
“As you can imagine, just about every single guest who has been here since that day has dropped a ball in the woods attempting to duplicate that shot. Our opinion is unchanged. It’s impossible,” Payne said. “I think we’d have to get a little more time to see how history remembers that before we would make that decision.”