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Corey Conners' improbable Masters appearance starts well with 2-under 70

After winning six-man playoff to qualify for PGA Tour event last week, he won that tournament, securing final spot for Augusta National.

Corey Conners of Canada lines up a putt

Corey Conners of Canada lines up a putt on the 18th green during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox

AUGUSTA, Ga.— Shortly after 8 a.m., the world’s hottest golfer was congratulated by history’s greatest golfer.  For the former, the day grew even better from there. A week-and-a-half after desperately trying to qualify for a PGA Tour event, Corey Conners was leading the Masters.

“I’m a math and stats guy and it was very unlikely that I was going to be here, I’ll say that,” said Conners, whose 2-under-par 70 did not stand up as the best score of the first round, but it sure qualified as the best story.

On Monday of last week, he emerged from a six-way playoff for one final spot in the Valero Texas Open. “Everybody else played it a little more conservative and we’re sitting there like, 'Six guys for one spot, you might as well try to be aggressive,’ ” said Kyle Peters, his caddie, recalling Conners’ birdie on the extra hole.

So, the 27-year-old from Listowel, Ontario, squeaked into the tournament -- then won it, earning a last-second invitation to the Masters. The result was so stunning that his wife, Malory, having flown in last Tuesday from their home in Florida, was caught on camera in a series of reactions so vivid that she became a social media sensation.

“Definitely not something I was used to or was wanting. But it was an emotional roller coaster and I couldn’t contain myself,” she said on Thursday, after a round in which her husband eagled the par-5 15th. “It has just been a crazy whirlwind. It doesn’t seem real. We haven’t had time to process it, but it’s amazing.”

“Amazing” would describe the fact Conners (having gone shopping for clothes because he didn't expect to be away for so long) was on the tee when honorary starters Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit their ceremonial drives. Nicklaus went out of his way to offer kudos on Conners’ victory.

“I never thought in a million years that Jack Nicklaus would know who I am,” he said, “and it just felt pretty cool.”

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