Notes Wittenberg Low Amateur

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The green jacket is going to someone else. Still, nobody can say they had a better finish at the Masters than amateur Casey Wittenberg.
 
The 19-year-old business major at Oklahoma State made three birdies and an eagle over the last six holes, and shot 31 on the back Sunday to finish 13th. The 31 tied the day's best back nines, by Sergio Garcia, K.J. Choi and Phil Mickelson, the fourth, third and first-place finishers.
 
More importantly for Wittenberg, it put him in a tie for 13th and earned him an automatic return trip to Augusta National next year.
 
'It's kind of indescribable, the way I feel,' Wittenberg said.
 
Wittenberg finished at even-par 288, the best score by an amateur since Charlie Coe, who also shot 288 in 1962. He became the first amateur to win a return trip back since Matt Kuchar in 1998. When Kuchar did it, the top 24 finishers qualified and he finished 21st. Now, it's the top 16.
 
Wittenberg's chances were dim when he made the turn at 38 and stood at 5 over. He said he felt momentum building when he hit his approach close for a birdie on the par-5 13th, then saved par from the woods on 14.
 
'It's really interesting to play with all the pros here,' he said. 'They all say that one shot can change the momentum of a round, and that's what happened today. You just have to keep on grinding.'
 
Wittenberg had his father on the bag and played the first two rounds with Tiger Woods. Even though Woods struggled all week - in fact, Wittenberg finished two strokes better than the three-time champion - the amateur said it was quite a learning experience.
 
'It showed me all the things I need to improve before I can make it with these guys,' he said. 'You can see where his game is really polished, and mine really isn't.'
 
Sergio's Surge
A birdie here, a made putt there earlier in the week, and maybe Sergio Garcia would have been celebrating his first major championship. Now, he might be replacing Phil Mickelson as The Best Player Never to Win a Major.
 
He certainly showed he had the stuff to make a charge down the stretch at Augusta. He made seven birdies and an eagle over the last 12 holes to push his score from 5 over to 3-under-par 285, good for fourth place.
 
'I feel like I played well enough to win, but unfortunately, I'm not going to,' Garcia said during an interview more than an hour before the leaders finished. 'That's the majors. It's not all about playing well. Sometimes, you've got to get lucky, too. A couple good breaks could have made the difference.'
 
Garcia went 2 over through the first six holes, but said it easily could have been 4 under.
 
He then ticked off the shots that slipped away, all because he felt he missed the right bounce by an inch or two. On No. 6, the ball was going so straight toward the hole, 'I thought I was making a 1. I can't even see the pin, it was going so straight at it.' Instead, it ran into the gallery and he made double bogey.
 
On No. 18, he hit an 8-iron to 20 feet and had the putt tracking to the hole, only to see it stop on the lip. As he walked to the hole to see just how close it was, he stopped and turned around - as though he just couldn't stand to look at such a near miss.
 
That putt wouldn't have made the difference. Still, a fourth-place finish wasn't bad, considering where he began the day.
 
'Unfortunately, I just didn't get the right breaks at the right time in the tournament,' he said.
 
Pair of Aces
Padraig Harrington and Kirk Triplett managed to do in 10 minutes what only seven other golfers have accomplished in the 67 previous years at the Masters.
 
Playing in back-to-back groups, Harrington and Triplett each aced the 16th hole Sunday afternoon. They were the eighth and ninth aces on the 170-yard hole, and the first since Raymond Floyd's in 1996.
 
'I was delighted,' Harrington said.
 
Harrington went first. Using a 7-iron, he put the ball on a slope 30 feet from the cup. The ball trickled down toward the hole, picking up speed before dropping in on the right side of the pin. Harrington's mouth dropped open as the crowd roared, and he exchanged high-fives with his caddie and playing partner Stewart Cink.
 
Fans were still applauding when Harrington walked onto the green, and he tipped his cap before picking up the ball and tossing it into the crowd.
 
The gallery had barely caught its breath when Triplett stepped up.
 
Using a 6-iron, he put the ball in almost the exact same spot as Harrington, and it, too, trickled down and into the hole. Triplett fell to the ground on his back, lying there spread-eagle before playing partner Fredrik Jacobson helped him up. Triplett beamed as he got to his feet, and the smile never left his face as he walked to the green.
 
'Just laying on the hallowed ground - I couldn't believe it,' Triplett said.
 
After his triumphant march, Triplett stopped a few feet from the hole before peering into the cup, almost as if he was afraid to look. He leaned forward again and, yes, the ball really was there. Triplett fished it out of the cup, kissed it and held onto it.
 
Divots
Jay Haas was one shot away from securing a spot in next year's Masters, but his score of 1 over left him in a tie for 17th, one spot out of the top-16 finish needed to guarantee his trip back. If the 50-year-old Haas, who is playing well, is able to qualify some other way, he will be the second-oldest player to compete without having won it. Tom Kite made it when he was 52. ... Justin Rose, the leader after the first and second rounds, rebounded with a 71 to finish at 2 over. He shot 81 on Saturday to fall out of contention. ... Chris Riley had the biggest fall of the 44 players who made the cut. He opened with at 2 under par, three strokes behind Rose, but then shot three straight 6-over 78s to finish at 16-over 304.
 
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