Memories of Seve Ballesteros at the Masters

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AUGUSTA, Ga. ' What usually is a night of laughter and memories turned melancholy at the Champions Dinner when Jose Maria Olazabal read a letter to the Masters winners from Seve Ballesteros, who is recovering from a malignant brain tumor.
 
Ballesteros, a dynamic figure at Augusta National and a two-time champion, has had three operations since he was diagnosed with the tumor in October. He recently began his fourth round of chemotherapy.
 
Olazabal visited him in the hospital in Madrid, and brought the letter to Augusta National. He declined to say what Ballesteros wrote.
 
It was personal, Olazabal said. But it was very emotional.
 
Masters chairman Billy Payne also declined to repeat what was in the letter, joking that he was only an invited guest.
 
It was very emotional, very loving, and as it was read, you could feel in the air the reciprocation from his friends and former champions going all the way back to Spain, Payne said. It was an amazing, amazing moment.
 
Ballesteros became the youngest Masters champion at age 23 ' a record later broken by 21-year-old Tiger Woods ' when he built a 10-shot lead going to the back nine before settling for a four-shot victory. He won the Masters again three years later.
 
Chronic back issues forced a premature end to a brilliant career, and Ballesteros retired in 2007. In his final Masters appearance, he shot 86-80 to finish in last place.
 
A true champion and a fierce competitor, Seve continues to inspire us all with his passion and his determination, Payne said. We look forward to his return to Augusta.
 
NO SMOKING: Anyone who takes a seat at the Masters better not light up.
 
For the first time, Augusta National has a no-smoking zone at certain areas for the Masters. Club chairman Billy Payne said the policy grew out of the suggestion box at the Masters last year.
 
We listened, and smoking will no longer be permitted in any patron stand or any other designated seating area on the course, he said.
 
Most greens have a section that is restricted to chairs, and those will be off-limits to cigars and cigarettes. The ban also applies to the numerous grandstands on the course.
 
Such a ban seemed unlikely a decade ago.
 
When the move to no-smoking areas first came up at stadiums and arenas in the late 1990s, former Masters chairman Jack Stephens was asked what he thought about making all or part of the course non-smoking.
 
Stephens quietly removed a pack of Winstons and his cigarette lighter from his green jacket and placed them on the table.
 
He didnt say a word.
 
Will Nicholson, then chair of the competition committee, finally leaned into the microphone.
 
No sir, Nicholson said for anyone needing clarification.
 
PAR 3 CONTEST: Tim Clark of South Africa already faced 80-to-1 odds of winning the Masters. Those odds surely grew a little longer Wednesday when he made an ace on the last hole to win the Par 3 Contest at the Masters.
 
No winner of the Par 3 has ever gone on to capture the green jacket.
 
Clark finished at 5 under par to become the second consecutive South African to win the tournament. Rory Sabbatini won last year, then shot rounds of 75-74 to miss the cut.
 
The Masters is all business when it gets under way Thursday, a polar opposite to the mood at the Par 3 Contest. Some players have their children caddy for them. Anthony Kim, a Masters rookie, had his father on the bag.
 
Greg Normans caddie was his wife ' tennis great Chris Evert. And did they ever have reason to celebrate. The Shark had a hole-in-one on the sixth hole, hugged his caddie and gave her a smooch.
 
John Merrick also had an ace, but the biggest cheer for a ball that went from the tee into the cup was for Gary Player.
 
Trouble was, it was his third shot.
 
Player, in the Big Three group with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, dumped one in the water at No. 9, teed up another and watched it spin and roll back into the cup. He flexed his muscle, and his 7-year-old grandson ran into his arms.
 
He said, Gramps, youve still got it, Player said.
 
Nicklaus birdied his first two holes and had an outside chance to win until his grandson, Chris OLeary, hit the tee shot on the ninth. It went into the water, but the kid made the bogey putt.
 
Expect to see the Golden Bear back at Augusta, at least for the Par 3 Contest. He resumed playing a few years ago with another grandson on the bag, and Jack doesnt play favorites.
 
Ive got 21 grandkids, he said. Once I got one (to caddie), Ive got to get all of them. Its nice to get back in front of the Augusta crowd. The people have been great to me. They like to see me once a year, and thats not asking too much.
 

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