Maybe the best thing about the Masters Par-3 Tournament is how much you can really see. Unlike the big event, the extremely friendly confines let you get close to the players as they hit, see the entire flight of the ball and have a great look at the putts on the tiny greens.
Some of the mystique will be lost now that the event is televised by ESPN, but the greater good is being served.
Overall, the byword is ease. With throngs sitting on the green slopes bordered by several lakes, the event feels more like an outdoor jazz festival, or maybe a picnic in heaven. Everything seems to happen in an easy rhythm, from the way the players swing so wonderfully within themselves, to their slow saunter down the fairway (all the better to keep in step with the small offspring that often are recruited as caddies), to the lack of grinding over putts. Ben Crenshaw, his 10-year-old Anna Reilly on the bag, had to ask spectators for a coin on the first green to mark his ball. Boo Weekley used an orange tee as a marker. Bernhard Langer asked the gallery if a two-incher was good on the second, and receiving an assent, picked it up, (thus eliminating any worry that he might tempt "The Curse", in which no winner of the Par 3 has ever won the actual tournament.)
The highlight was seeing Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player playing together one more time. They were loose on the first tee, but their competitiveness is unavoidable. Palmer's opening shot won the closest-to-the-hole on the 130-yard first hole, 22 and a half inches. Nicklaus held the closest on the 70-yard second, seven inches, until Paul Azinger aced it.
Player, who Thursday will break Palmer's record of 50 straight Masters appearances, was buoyed by the results of his annual physical at the Mayo Clinic. "My dad was proud," said his eldest son, Marc. "He called me and said, "Did you see my results? The doctors say I'm a perfect specimen of a man."
On the ninth, the green framed by huge amphitheater, the Big Three stepped into a time machine. Palmer started things with a shot to 10 feet, Player followed with a better one to six, and Nicklaus provided the crescendo with a spinner that finished inside two feet. Some things are ageless.