McIlroy preps for Masters by skipping Par-3 contest

Now that the dust around Tiger Woods has settled and it is clear that the four-time Masters champion will not be teeing it up this week at Augusta National, we can shift our attention to Rory McIlroy, who announced last week that he will not be participating in this year’s Par 3 Contest.

McIlroy used the terms “hassle” and “distraction” to describe the annual event, a Wednesday tradition at Augusta that has existed since 1960 when Sam Snead won the inaugural contest.

Although the North Irishman has never won the contest, he has participated in it almost every year that he has played in the Masters.  Often, McIlroy has had celebrity caddies carrying his bag including ex-girlfriend (and tennis star) Caroline Wozniacki and One Direction singer Niall Horan.

This year, however, the four-time major winner believes that he will have a better shot at finally claiming that Green Jacket (and in the process, the career Grand Slam) that has eluded him in the past by just skipping the contest altogether.

“The year I had my best chance at Augusta, 2011, I didn’t play the Par 3 Contest,” McIlroy said in an interview with the Guardian last week. “So maybe the decision not to play it this year can work in my favour.”

Personally, I think McIlroy’s decision to skip the contest is a wise and precautionary one.

The third-ranked player in the world has had a rocky start to 2016 with two Top 5s, a missed cut, and a handful of mediocre finishes in his seven starts this season. Additionally, he has witnessed Jason Day overtake him as well as Jordan Spieth in the world golf rankings over the last two weeks.  Moreover, McIlroy has realized from his match with the World No. 1 last week that he will need to play exceptionally well to be victorious this coming weekend.

In the past, McIlroy has had his fun in the days leading up to the Masters. This year, it seems that a more mature and determined McIlroy is all business.

If anything, statistics and historic precedents suggest that the 26-year-old is making the right decision.

Tiger rarely played in the Par 3 Contests over the course of his career (which may or may not be over, depending on which Twitter accounts you follow) and his successes at Augusta National are well documented.

Also, since its inception, no player has gone on to win both the Par 3 Contest and The Masters during the same week.

For all of its historic allure and attached fanfare, the Par 3 Contest has come a long way from the initial purpose that it served when it was just a relaxing afternoon activity for players to participate in before the madness of four days at Augusta National unfolded.  However, in recent years, the event has become a bit of a public spectacle. Now that it is inexplicably televised in its ENTIRETY by ESPN every year, participants are expected to play it up for the cameras and either have their children — dressed in tiny Augusta National caddie jumpsuits — or, at the very least, their celebrity friends carry their bags for the duration of the contest.

Also, what should be a quick nine-hole outing is always stretched out into this three-hour slog-fest for every participant in the field — one that is agonizing to watch on television.  If you thought that the broadcasters did not have much to say in between shots during the final rounds of the WGC-Dell Match Play, then I do not suggest tuning in to Wednesday’s broadcast, as it will feel like an eternity.

Don’t get me wrong — I think the kids are adorable, especially the ones that are smaller than the putters that they are trying to use on those beautiful emerald greens.  But at a certain point, the combination of terrible celebrity golf shots (or more accurately, shanks) and cute children running around the greens becomes tiring and I feel compelled to switch the channel.

That point, for me, is usually about the 15-minute mark … and I get paid to watch and write about golf!

Just like the NHL Skills Competition, the NBA Dunk Contest, or even the MLB Home Run Derby, the Par 3 Contest is purely an exhibition of skills with no major ramifications, other than that the winner receives a crystal pedestal bowl for his effort.  It is a fun event to watch for a bit, and serves as a pretty good transition to the actual tournament, but no one (including the players involved) actually cares who wins.

As Denver columnist Woody Paige declared on “Around the Horn” last week: “Par 3 Contest? I’ve covered 27 Masters tournaments and I still have no idea where the heck the Par 3 course is on the property.”

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