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The Masters: Bubba Watson’s nine-year-old daughter Dakota steals the show at Par 3 contest

<i>Mike Blake/Reuters via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Walter Harman
Mike Blake/Reuters via CNN Newsource
Walter Harman

By Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — Plenty of young golfers have sent crowds into a frenzy at Augusta National across the 88 years of The Masters, but perhaps none quite as young as Dakota Watson.

Bubba Watson’s nine-year-old daughter delivered a putting masterclass during the par three contest on the eve of the major on Wednesday, showcasing the sort of golden touch around the greens that helped her father clinch two green jackets.

The fabled venue becomes a family affair for the traditional nine-hole competition, as wives, partners, children and grandchildren – all kitted out in the famous white jumpsuits worn by tournament caddies – take up the bag for golfers.

Rickie Fowler, accompanied by wife Allison Stokke and three-year-old daughter Maya, clinched a two-shot victory to triumph for the first time, but the win was arguably upstaged by the young Watson, who rolled in three remarkable long-range putts in a row to thrill hundreds of spectators.

Two beautifully-weighted downhill nudges came either side of a truly sensational winding effort that even her 12-time PGA Tour winning father – standing proudly behind recording on his phone – would have been thrilled to make.

From the step back to watch it roll home to the hands-raised celebration as the crowd erupted around her, the nine-year-old looked like a seasoned professional, prompting comparisons to one of the game’s all-time great putters, two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw.

“Have you changed your mind? You said Ben Crenshaw was the best putter you’ve ever seen. You’ve never seen Dakota until today,” broadcaster Sean McDonough asked co-commentator Curtis Strange on ESPN’s live coverage of the contest.

Fitting then, that “Gentle Ben” was paired with the Watson group for the contest, giving the 72-year-old – joined by his grandson – a front-row seat to the sort of putting perfection he so often served up.

“It’s a dream come true. Now that they’re getting older, they can hit shots, we can have fun with it,” Watson, making his 16th Masters start, told reporters.

“Being out there with a legend, Ben Crenshaw, what an honor that he signed up with me … To be here, to watch all the families, the smiles on parents’ faces – I know they’re golfers, but the parents are having the most blast.

“Even the parents behind the ropes and parents inside the ropes are having the most fun of anybody.”

It may not be the last time that the young Watson lights up Augusta National either.

In a post on X – formerly known as Twitter – of Watson re-watching broadcast highlights of his daughter’s putts, the 45-year-old wrote that “she might be a golfer when she grows up,” adding that it was her goal to compete at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

England’s Lottie Woad became the first British golfer to win the annual tournament on Saturday, after prodigious American talent Rose Zhang won last year’s event.

Beware the par-three victory?

Fowler will be hoping he can break the mythical curse of winning the par-three competition.

Infamously, in the 64 years since the contest was created by Sam Snead, no victor of the competition has ever gone on to clinch the green jacket come Sunday.

Crowd favorite Fowler, 35, is still chasing his first major title after a string of runner-up finishes, including missing out by just one stroke to American compatriot Patrick Reed at Augusta National in 2019.

“Great way to start,” Fowler said.

“The par-3 contest is something special … Been around plenty of the little kids over the years, but [it’s] a little different when we have our own out there. A special way for us, first time having my daughter with my wife and I, and something we’ll always have.”

Victory came on Fowler’s ninth appearance in the contest, though he had only submitted an official scorecard on two prior appearances. Many players – such as Watson this year – allow family members to hit shots and subsequently do not post an official score.

Five hole-in-ones dropped in during the competition courtesy of Sepp Straka, Viktor Hovland, Luke List, Lucas Glover and Gary Woodland, who – in his first return to Augusta National since undergoing surgery to remove a lesion on his brain last year – watched in delight as his six-year-old son Jax lasered in his final putt.

“He thought about it all day,” Woodland said. “He knew that was going to be his shot. He told me to hit it a lot closer than that, so I was apologizing I didn’t hit it closer for him.

“That was so cool. Just so see his reaction, that was very special … For him to make the putt was everything. That’s what this is all about.”

After a two-and-a-half hour delay due to bad weather, the first round of The Masters got underway on Thursday.

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