Crane's Cowboy is silent, pardner
Ben Crane won the Par-3 Contest on Wednesday in his first trip to the Masters Tournament, but he wasn't the most famous athlete in his group.
Unrecognized for the most of the day, NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe of the Dallas Cowboys carried Crane's bag and read his final two putts. Crane made both birdie efforts, including a long downhill putt at the last, to win by a shot with a score of 4-under-par 23.
"No one really recognized it was him until about the eighth hole. The first six or seven holes, I'm getting swarmed and he's just walking right through all the people," Crane said. "I bet that's the first time that's ever happened to him."
Crane's birdie-birdie finish, combined with his birdie-birdie start, was good enough to top five players at 3 under. Four others, including Augusta's Vaughn Taylor, finished two back.
Crane became the first player since Joe Durant in 1999 to win the Par-3 Contest in his first Masters appearance.
He said he's aware of the infamous Par-3 jinx - no winner has gone on to win the green jacket in the same year - but he doesn't believe in it.
"I don't believe in luck anyway," Crane said. "Any time I have a chance to win, I'm going to take it. ... So maybe we can rewrite history this year."
The event, usually marked by family fun and caddie participation, saw no holes-in-one until late. But when they finally came, they came in bunches on the 120-yard ninth.
Padraig Harrington and Arron Oberholser holed pitching wedges in back-to-back groups, followed minutes later by Tim Clark's ace. Oberholser gave the ball to his grandfather, who has watched every Masters that's been televised but was visiting the course for the first time.
"It's a great feeling to have family here," Oberholser said. "It's something I'll always remember, that's for sure."
For Taylor, the competition marked the Augustan's first entry into Masters history.
"It was pretty special," said Taylor, whose dad caddied. "We always used to come to the Par-3 as spectators together, so it's pretty special to have him here now."
But Bledsoe and Crane stole the show. On his caddie uniform, the quarterback sported the same No. 11 he wears on Sundays in the fall because Crane coincidentally registered 11th for the event.
"It just happened that way, and when it did, we said to each other that maybe it was destiny," Crane said. "His caddie record is pretty strong now, 1-0."
Bledsoe and Crane live two houses apart in the Dallas area. They are both from the Northwest, and Crane went to high school with Bledsoe's wife.
"I'm going to take full credit," Bledsoe said. "No, but it was the experience of a lifetime."
Crane, a two-time PGA Tour winner, usually has Brett Waldman on the bag.
"I'm not really worried about my job. I'm sure Drew makes plenty of money," Waldman said. "But if he wants to switch paychecks, he can."
Jack Nicklaus finished the Par-3 Contest at 1-under, three back of Crane. His grandson Charlie was on the bag, and the younger Nicklaus made about a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 9.
Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
23: Ben Crane
24: Robert Allenby, Adam Scott, Mark Hensby, Shigeki Maruyama, Arron Oberholser
25: Padraig Harrington, Vaughn Taylor, Chad Campbell, Olin Browne
Closest to the hole
No. 1: Rich Beem 30 inches
No. 2: Peter Lonard, Stephen Ames 24 inches
No. 3: Ben Crenshaw 21 inches
No. 4: Shigeki Maruyama 10 inches
No. 5: Sean O'Hair 13 inches
No. 6: Tim Herron 42 inches
No. 7: Peter Lonard 16 inches
No. 8: Justin Leonard 21 inches
No. 9: Padraig Harrington, Arron Oberholser, Tim Clark holes-in-one