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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Esteban Toledo is hardly the first pro golfer willing to do just about anything to get inside the ropes at the Masters.
What sets him apart is what he was willing to do once he got there.
The 53-year-old from Mexico, who never qualified during any of his 21 years playing on the PGA Tour, is working as a caddie this week, carrying clubs for his longtime buddy, 1988 Masters champion Sandy Lyle.
"A dream come true for me," Toledo said Wednesday, after working the front nine with Lyle, his last practice round before the real thing begins. "You walk through the gates, and you get a feel for the honor, the prestige. Walking these fairways, it doesn't get any better than that."
Toledo made $3.7 million over his career on the PGA Tour, and with that money came his fair share of chances to book a tee time at the Masters. Never happened. Standing under the old oak tree outside the clubhouse at Augusta, he rattles off tournaments where a shot here or there might have punched his ticket.
"I lost to Tiger at the Buick Open, lost to him at the BellSouth in Atlanta, got beat by Brad Faxon in New York. David Toms beat me in Williamsburg, Virginia," Toledo said.
At some point, not too long ago, he realized he'd have to find a different path inside the ropes.
Every player needs a caddie.
Last year, Toledo asked another friend, Ben Crenshaw, if he could don the white overalls that all Augusta National loopers wear, and help Crenshaw around the course. But it was Crenshaw's final Masters, and he wanted to close things out with his longtime caddie — Carl Jackson, who worked with Gentle Ben for 39 Masters, including victories in 1984 and 1995.
That's when Lyle stepped in.
"He always made it clear to me, he said, 'I want to caddie for you sometime at the Masters,'" Lyle said. "I love his enthusiasm. It's just nice, sometimes, to make somebody's dream come true."
Lyle's wife, Jolande, called Toledo shortly after Toledo notched his fourth career Champions Tour victory, in February at the Allianz Championship.
"He got off the phone and called me right away. He said 'Guess what happened!" said Toledo's wife, Colleen.
To be sure, this is not glamour work.
There are bunkers to rake, greens to read, wind to gauge and distances to measure. Toledo is getting a bit of a break because Lyle, 58, has ditched his professional's bag for a lightweight model with a stand.
"No different," Toledo says of the intensity of caddying vs. playing. "I think I'm enjoying this even more, helping Sandy."
Lyle said his new caddie is not just along for the ride.
"We're making lots of decisions out there together," Lyle said. "He's giving it 100 percent, and I'm going to have to play 100 percent, as well."
As the years pass and the course is subtly tweaked and rebooted to became longer and tougher, the ex-champions — the Tom Watsons, Ian Woosnams, Larry Mizes and Lyles of the world — come to grips with the reality that making the cut is their most realistic goal.
Lyle made it in 2013 and 2014, and Toledo said helping him get to the weekend again "is my top goal, right now. It would make this week even better. It'll make more history."
He's well aware of the history and tradition of this place. To get a chance to feel it, to take part of it, is a chance he never thought he'd get.
"Even though I've won tournaments and made some money, this is the No. 1 event I've ever played," Toledo said.
"This week, I feel like I'm a player, also," he said. "I finally made it inside the ropes. This is the top of the line."
Follow Eddie Pells on Twitter at www.twitter.com/epells