AUGUSTA, GA. — Jack Nicklaus called his shot.
During an ESPN interview Wednesday morning, the six-time Masters winner joked that if he won the Par-3 contest maybe he would be allowed to play in the big tournament again.
“But maybe a hole-in-one, how’s that?” Nicklaus asked ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. “We’ll try to get one for you.”
On the fourth hole, Nicklaus got one, spinning an 8-iron about 10 feet past the hole from 123 yards and back into the cup for his first ace of any kind at Augusta National Golf Club.
“I actually hit two more shots that hit right around the edge of the hole, had a chance to go in,” he said. “I didn’t finish up very well, but we had a lot of fun.”
Kevin Streelman won the Par-3 contest, beating Camilo Villegas in a three-hole playoff after the two tied at 5-under par 22.
A 250-to-1 shot to win the Masters, Streelman will try to break the “Par-3 jinx.” Since the inception of the contest in 1960, no one has won the Par-3 and the Masters the same year.
As a general in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower led the Allies to victory in Europe.
Victory over the Eisenhower Tree is another matter.
As a member of Augusta National, then President Eisenhower campaigned to have a large pine tree on No. 17 that snared so many of his tee shots cut down. He never succeeded.
An ice storm in February 2014 so damaged the tree it was cut down. But Masters chairman Billy Payne announced Wednesday that the club has preserved a seedling and two grafts from the tree for possible future planting.
No plans to replant an “Ike Jr.” tree on the 17th as yet, but “who knows what the future holds or what a future (club) chairman might decide to do with these priceless specimens,” Payne said.
The club also unveiled a cross section of the tree that has been preserved in a display case. After this Masters week, the case will be sent to the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas. Another cross section of the tree will be displayed at Augusta National.
Ceremonial tee shot
As has been the case since 1963, the Masters gets under way Thursday morning with ceremonial tee shots from three former champions: Arnold Palmer (age 85), Gary Player (79) and Nicklaus (75).
Their shots are set for 6:40 a.m. CDT. The tee shots are not televised live.
Palmer, who had a pacemaker inserted last August, fell in December when he playing in a golf tournament. He injured his right shoulder, leaving him to watch the Par-3 contest in his green jacket from a chair behind the first tee.
“I haven’t been practicing,” Palmer said. “I’m not allowed to swing.”
However, he vowed to take a swing on Thursday morning.
Australian Marc Leishman withdrew from the Masters on Wednesday morning to stay home with his wife Audrey.
She is recovering from what he described as “life-threatening medical emergency” after coming down with what was originally thought to be the flu.
Leishman’s absence leaves the tournament with 97 entries (90 professionals, seven amateurs) after earlier threatening to pass 100 for the first time since 1966.
Payne said if the field consistently starts to go over 100 participants, the club would have “to do something” to change the qualifying criteria.
Golfers are among the most superstitious athletes, and two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson is no exception.
Watson has a burrito for dinner every night of Masters week for good luck, except at the Masters champions dinner he hosted Tuesday night at the clubhouse.
He had the chicken.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.