Masters Par-3 contest limits field at Augusta

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Honourary invitees to the Masters have been told they will not be invited to take part in this year’s famous Par-3 Contest at Augusta National, according to the Associated Press.

The event is always held the Wednesday before the opening round, but this year Augusta National have limited the Par-3 Contest field to players competing and past Masters champions.

Previously, honourary invitees were allowed to participate in the Par-3 contest, could play in practice rounds and use the practice facilities – being all but treated like part of the field until the opening round. Now however, the club is asking they no longer participate in any of activities, and said they are limiting the Par-3 Contest due to increased participation and interest.

"It's sad," former British Open champion David Duval said, who was clearly more upset about the Par-3 than using the course for practice. "But I understand it. Maybe there's not enough spots in the Par 3."

"I would never clog up the golf course when guys are trying to prepare, that's the problem I would have had."

The perks of being awarded an honourary invite come to all those who have won a U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, and no longer merit the five year exemption to the Masters that came with those victories. They join all past U.S Amateur champions with the honour.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange rarely brings his clubs when he comes to the Masters, and he didn't mind the change in policy.

"We had our time, and now it's their time," Strange said. "I think it's extremely nice that we're invited to come back with your spouse. It's been nice for these guys who want to hit balls and play practice rounds. But times change. I think with time constraints, they want to make it for players in the field. My sense is that the Par-3 was getting a little bit crowded and taking a little bit too long, and they wanted to streamline it. I think that's fine." 

While Strange didn’t mind the change, Ian Baker-Finch was quick to share his disappointment. Baker-Finch last played the Masters in 1996 but has either played a practice round or in the Par-3 Contest every year since.

"As a person and an honorary invitee, I'm disappointed because it was my favorite day of the year," former British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch said. "I loved it. I'll still be there, though, and I'll watch like everyone else."

Jimmy Walker won the Par-3 Contest in 2016

Despite not being able to participate in the Par-3 Contest, Augusta National will still extend special access to their honourary members - which includes two clubhouse badges, a $1,000 honorarium and a gift to commemorate them being there.

The Masters already boasts the smallest field of all of the major tournaments, which hasn’t exceeded 100 players since 1966. Currently 88 players have automatically earned qualifications to this year’s event, which is one less than the 89 players who teed up in 2016. 

And while the Par-3 Contest is a huge part of the build-up to the tournament, many players often opt not to take part. The competition has been running since 1960 and yet, no one has ever won both the Par 3 and the Masters in the same year.

But maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world to show your form on the small course at Augusta National. Jimmy Walker was last year’s Par-3 Champion, and although he didn’t win the Masters, he did win the PGA Championship later in the year to get his maiden major - and that’s saying something.

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