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Sabbatini wins Par 3; four get aces

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

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Highlights came early and often during the 49th annual Par-3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club. The field combined for four aces, and Masters Tournament legends Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player put on a show, but it was South African Rory Sabbatini who took home the crystal pedestal bowl.

Sabbatini, playing in the second threesome of the day, shot 5-under par 22 on the nine-hole course to take an early lead into the clubhouse.

"The way it looks is 5-under is a pretty good number on this course," said Sabbatini, who turned 32 last week. "You obviously need to play well to beat that. I came out and played as well as I could and hoped it'd stand up."

Last year's Masters runner-up started out strong in Wednesday's tournament with a birdie on the first hole. He landed his ball four feet from the pin on the third hole for another birdie and never lost momentum.

Sabbatini's final shot of the day, a long, downhill putt to birdie the ninth hole, made the difference as Woody Austin and Miguel Angel Jimenez later finished with rounds of 4-under 23.

The winner of the Par-3 Contest has never gone on to win the Masters Tournament in same the year. Sabbatini said he didn't believe in the curse.

"I'm not a superstitious person so I don't believe in jinxes and things like that," he said. "It's just a situation that ultimately you've still go to go out and play well. I think it's a good omen because at least it means you're playing the par-3s well."

Wayne Grady, winner of the PGA Championship in 1990, nailed the first of four holes-in-one with an ace on the ninth hole less than an hour after the tournament began. He celebrated with a jog around Ike's Pond, high-fiving patrons as he went.

"Unbelievable. It's the first one in anything for about 20 years," he said.

Fred Couples, who finished in a tie with several golfers for fourth place at 2-under 25, made a hole-in-one on the seventh hole, while Paul Azinger aced No. 2 and Charles Coody did the same on No. 3.

Palmer and Nicklaus, playing in a threesome with Player, had the biggest following of the day. Palmer got closest-to-the-pin on hole No. 1 with a shot that landed 22.5 inches from the first hole. Nicklaus came within seven inches of an ace on the second hole and within 21 inches on the ninth.

Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.

Par-3 Contest Closest to the Pin
Hole Player Inches
1. Arnold Palmer 22.5
2. Paul Azinger 0
3. Charles Coody 0
4. D.J. Trahan 33.9
5 Stewart Cink 14.5
6. Brett Wetterich 21.2
7 Fred Couples 0
8. K.J. Choi 46.5
9 Wayne Grady 0
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