Masters Par 3 event abandoned for first time in history due to bad weather

Niall Horan (left) with Rory McIlroy

Masters 2017 on the BBC
Venue: Augusta NationalDates:6-9 April
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The traditional Par 3 curtain-raiser to the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, has been cancelled because of severe weather warnings.

A tornado threat in the area forced officials to close the course for the rest of the day on Wednesday.

The event, held each year on the eve of the opening round, often sees family members or celebrities serving as caddies to the professionals.

Bad weather has affected practice sessions at the course all week.

It is the first time in the history of the Masters that the Par 3 event has been cancelled.

“Augusta is now in a ‘Particularly Dangerous Situation’ tornado watch, which means there is a high probability of tornadoes in the area,” said BBC meteorologist Simon King.

Earlier on Wednesday officials closed the course for two and a half hours because of thunderstorms and weather warnings, and when players returned to the course for the Par 3 tournament, just 55 minutes of play was possible before being abandoned.

The weather is expected to affect the opening round of the 81st Masters on Thursday, with 40mph winds forecast during play.

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Masters 2017: Rory McIlroy confident after 99 practice holes at Augusta National

Rory McIlroy

Masters 2017 on the BBC
Venue: Augusta National Dates: 6 April to 9 April
Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before live and uninterrupted coverage of the weekend’s action on BBC Two and up to four live streams available online.
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Rory McIlroy has sought to make Augusta National like his “home golf course” during frequent practice sessions as he seeks his first Masters title.

The 27-year-old Northern Irishman has played 99 practice holes so far, with nine more to come on Wednesday.

“It’s been a quiet build-up compared to previous years and I haven’t minded that – it’s been quite nice,” he said.

“I feel good, like my game is there. I feel ready to go,” the world number two told BBC Radio 5 live.

“I feel like I’ve done everything I can do to prepare. It’s just a case of going out there and hitting the shots I need to.”

Victory this week would see McIlroy complete a grand slam of majors, adding to his US PGA Championship titles from 2012 and 2014, his 2014 Open Championship win and the US Open success he recorded in 2011.

Last year he chose to sit out the traditional Par 3 contest – played on the eve of the Masters – to focus on winning the main event, but finished tied for 10th, his third top-10 finish in a row.

He will play in this year’s Par 3 competition, adding to the number of holes he has amassed on the course in the run-up to the season’s first major.

“The more you can make Augusta National feel like your home golf course, the better,” added McIlroy.

“I’ve played here a good bit in recent weeks. I’ve shot good scores and I feel like I know what I am doing here. It’s all there. I know it’s all there, it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.

“That’s the difficult thing – it’s almost like getting out of your own way and letting your subconscious take over.”

McIlroy, who picked up a £7.7m bonus in September by winning last year’s PGA Tour points race, begins his first round at 18:41 BST on Thursday alongside Japan’s Hideto Tanihara and Spain’s Jon Rahm.

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PGA Tour players loose in ball marking – Mickelson

American Phil Mickelson

Masters 2017 on the BBC
Venue: Augusta National Dates: 6 April to 9 April
Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before live and uninterrupted coverage of the weekend’s action on BBC Two and up to four live streams available online.
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Some leading players on the PGA Tour are “intentionally loose” in marking their ball, says Phil Mickelson.

American Lexi Thompson ended up losing the first women’s major of the season after incorrectly replacing a marked ball and earning a four-stroke penalty.

Thompson said she did not mean to move the ball, but Mickelson says it does happen deliberately on the men’s tour.

“They will move the ball two, three inches in front of their mark,” said three-time Masters champion Mickelson.

“This is an intentional way to get it out of any type of impression and so forth – and I think that kind of stuff needs to stop.”

Incorrectly replacing a marked ball incurs a two-stroke penalty under R&A rules.

Thompson, 22, incorrectly replaced a marked ball in the third round of the ANA Inspiration last weekend with a TV viewer spotting the offence and telling officials by email.

She was given a further two-stroke penalty for returning an incorrect scorecard.

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Thompson was left in tears when told of the penalty while leading Sunday’s final round by three shots – and then lost a play-off to South Korea’s Ryu So-yeon.

Mickelson, 46, says no golf tournament should be decided in such a manner, believing the decision should be reversed and Thompson declared the winner.

“I think that she should be given the trophy,” he said.

“I feel like we’ve all kind of been a little lax at times in the markings of our golf ball and I hate to see it cost somebody a major championship because of that.”

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Masters 2017: Danny Willett hopes Augusta return can spark return to form

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Defending Masters champion Danny Willett says returning to the scene of his greatest triumph may not spark an instant upturn in form.

The Englishman, 29, won his first major after a shock win at Augusta, aided by American Jordan Spieth’s collapse.

Willett rose to a career-high ninth in the world, but has dropped to 17th after failing to win an event since.

“You do have a spring in your step coming back as champion,” he said. “But you can’t change your game like that.”

Willett became the first Briton to win the Green Jacket in 20 years when he shot a five-under-par 67 as 2015 champion Spieth crumbled during a thrilling final round.

However, he has struggled to regularly match his form at Augusta since.

The Yorkshireman finished third in the PGA Championship and second in the Italian Open following his Masters triumph, but suffered a dip in form ahead of his Ryder Cup debut in October.

He failed to win a single point as Europe lost 17-11 at Hazeltine, while also being distracted by questions over his brother Peter’s controversial comments about American fans.

Willett has only claimed one top-10 finish so far in 2017, blowing a three-shot 54-hole lead to finish fifth at the Maybank Championship in February.

“The pressure has been more from myself. It’s not a nice feeling to not hit good golf shots when you know what you can do,” he said.

“I think the last 12 months has made me a little more impatient.

“I think achieving what I achieved last year and performing under the pressure that I did on Sunday, if you don’t do that every time you get a bit annoyed.

“That’s where the game jumps up and bites you. It’s not that easy.”

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Willett begins title defence alongside Kuchar at Masters

Matt Kuchar, Danny Willett and Curtis Luck

The Masters, Augusta, 6-9 April
Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before live and uninterrupted coverage of the weekend’s action on BBC Two and up to four live streams available online. Listen on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio 5 live sports extra. Read live text commentary, analysis and social media on the BBC Sport website and the sport app. Full details here.

England’s Danny Willett will begin the defence of his Masters title playing alongside American Matt Kuchar and Australian amateur Curtis Luck.

The 29-year-old, who won his first major at Augusta National last year, will tee off at 17:24 BST.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, 27, will play alongside highly-rated Spaniard Jon Rahm at 18:41.

World number one Dustin Johnson is in the final trio with two-time winner Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker at 19:03.

American Jordan Spieth, winner in 2015 and runner-up in 2014 and 2016, starts his fourth Masters campaign at 15:34. The 23-year-old is playing with Germany’s Martin Kaymer and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Three-time winner Phil Mickelson, 46, is in the following trio at 15:45.

American record six-time winner Jack Nicklaus, 77, and South Africa’s Gary Player, 81, who has three Green Jackets, will be the honorary starters. The pair have hit the opening tee shots of the tournament for several years in the company of four-time winner Arnold Palmer, who died in September 2016 at the age of 87.

Georgia native Russell Henley, who only qualified by winning the Houston Open on Sunday, is in the first pairing, out at 13:00.

England’s Justin Rose, who has had four top-10 finishes in the past 10 years, will play with Australia’s world number three Jason Day and American Brandt Snedeker. They tee off at 15:56 and are last out in Friday’s round two at 19:03.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia and England’s Lee Westwood are in the same trio as Ireland’s Shane Lowry.

A record 11 Englishmen are in the field of 94 players, which also includes two Scots – Russell Knox and 1988 champion Sandy Lyle – while 1991 winner Ian Woosnam is the only Welshman.

For full Masters tee times, click here.