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Masters Par 3 Contest 2013: Girlfriends, kids, and mingling with legends

The laid-back par-3 contest is family affair for players and fans.

Andrew Redington

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Rory McIlroy got his wish when his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, suited up to caddie for the world’s No. 2 in Wednesday’s annual Masters Par-3 Contest.

McIlroy said during last week’s Valero Texas Open he hoped to convince Wozniacki to don Augusta’s signature white overalls and loop for him in the just-for-fun nine-hole family affair that kicks off the Masters. Apparently he made her an offer she could not refuse.

“I just had a good deal with Rory and get a really good paycheck out of this,” the distaff half of Wozzilroy jokingly told Golf Channel’s Steve Sands before the two reached the first tee in front of fans stacked 20-deep along the pristine fairways of the miniature version of Augusta National across the street from the full-size track. “I even gave him a special price, you know.”

McIlroy, who said his expectations were high for this week’s first major on the men’s 2013 calendar after a runner-up finish in San Antonio, was excited to have Wozniacki by his side.

“I really wanted her to come here and see Augusta and see the Masters and see what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s great that she’s here this week and it makes this afternoon special that she can be out here with me.”

The duo may have turned everyone’s heads, but they were hardly the only glam couple to make the scene. As young boys hugging the ropes grinned widely as Dustin Johnson signed their Masters flags, older boys had their eyes glued on DJ’s plus-one, Paulina Gretzky, who was unencumbered by the caddie’s uniform.

Mostly, though, the only golfer who may walk away with any weight on his shoulders after an SPF 70 day under a cloudless Georgia sky, when wives, grandmothers, and significant others lugged the bags and toddlers tended the flags would be the winner of today’s tilt. Sure, he’ll hoist the crystal bowl that goes to the victor, but since the inception of the par-3 competition as a yearly tradition in 1960, not one golfer who’s triumphed on Wednesday has added a green jacket to his closet on Sunday.

But that’s not what Wednesday is about. It’s about Trevor Immelman’s 2-year-old daughter, Mya, prancing around the putting area in her sparkly green shoes and slam dunking golf balls, Michael Jordan-style.

It’s 14-year-old Tianlang Guan, who’ll become the youngest-ever competitor in a Masters, anchoring his belly putter alongside par-3 playing partner Nick Faldo and his pencil-gripped shortie flat stick.

It’s also not just the players and their broods enjoying the day; rarely do golf fans have the chance to stand within arm’s length of their heroes.

One of this typist’s fondest memories is of that Wednesday before the 2000 tournament when my father, a single-digit handicapper who played with tour pros in the Greater Hartford Open (now the Travelers Championship) pro-am, was star-struck as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus walked so close to the ropes he could reach out and touch them. And did.

For sure, that’s why Grace and Max McCafferty made the trip from Pawleys Island, S.C.

“To see Arnold and Jack come down here and Gary Player,” Max told me as we waited on the first tee for the legends to make their appearances.

Their 30-year-old son, a golf assistant on Pawleys Island, agreed.

“Seeing Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer in the same group because that's not going to happen too often anymore," said McAfferty the younger.

So, while the business of winning the 2013 Masters will commence on Thursday, golf fans fortunate enough to take in the Par-3 Contest got to munch on Augusta’s famed pimiento and cheese sandwiches (wrapped, of course, in Masters green waxed paper), sip their iced teas, and watch history walk by.

It really doesn’t get much better than that. -- Live from the IZOD Social Hub

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