Arnie & Jack get the Masters started

Arnold Palmer brought the mock bravado. Jack Nicklaus countered
with self-deprecating humor.

Two old rivals, who between them have played 95 times and won 10
green jackets, got the Masters off to a much-anticipated start on
Thursday with ceremonial tee shots that didn’t go very far but left
both of them pleased.

“As long as we don’t hear it land, we’re both in good shape,”
Nicklaus said. “And that was what we did.”

The tradition of honorary starters began in 1963, the year
Nicklaus won the first of his record six green jackets, during the
heart of the great Nicklaus-Palmer rivalry. They won six Masters in
a seven-year stretch to start the 1960s.

Masters chairman Billy Payne introduced the 80-year-old Palmer
as the player who “symbolized the game of golf around the world
and remains universally loved and embraced.”

Palmer stuck his tee in the ground, then looked over at the
gallery and said, “Get your ear muffs on because I’m going to
…,” Palmer said, not finishing the bold prediction when the
crowd erupted in laughter.

He swung from the heels, as always, and the shot peeled toward
the right side of the fairway. Even his rival was impressed.

“That was pretty good,” Nicklaus told him.

Nicklaus, who turned 70 in January, for years resisted being an
honorary starter. He has never been about ceremonial golf, even for
one shot. He relented to Payne’s request after giving Palmer the
tee box alone for three years.

“How did you do that?” Nicklaus said to Palmer, as if asking
for advice.

“Keep your eye on the ball,” Palmer replied.

“And your head down,” Nicklaus added.

Nicklaus hit his shot a little farther, a little more to the
right. He blamed that on taking time for a proper warmup.

“I’ve never been up this early at Augusta,” Nicklaus said.

They have not been on the first tee together on a Thursday at
Augusta National since they played with Gary Player – the other
part of the “Big Three” – in the 2002 Masters.

Asked if would like to see Player join them for the ceremonial
start, Nicklaus said, “That’s not my call.”

For Nicklaus, a newcomer to this role, it was rare to hit an
opening tee shot and then pose for pictures with his rival – first
with Augusta National members, then with wives Kit Palmer and
Barbara Nicklaus.

Palmer walked off the tee and immediately slipped into his green
jacket – he and Nicklaus are the only Masters champions who have
been invited to join Augusta National.

Nicklaus wasn’t sure where his jacket went. Besides, he was on
his way out of town to go fishing in the Bahamas.

“I don’t think I’ll have a television set,” Nicklaus said.
“I’ll be out in the water all day. We have a set on the boat, but
whether we’ll pick it up at night, watch the replays … we’ll
probably do that.”

Heath Slocum, Nathan Green and Louis Oosthuizen walked onto the
tee for the real start of the Masters. The feature attraction was
scheduled much later Thursday, when Tiger Woods will hit his first
competitive shot in five months, following revelations of
infidelity.

Before leaving Augusta, Nicklaus was asked one last time how he
thought Woods would play. Nicklaus held up both hands and said, “I
don’t know.”

“He’s a pretty good player,” Nicklaus said. “I would think
he’ll play pretty well.”