Player joins Palmer, Nicklaus in Masters sendoff


Gary Player joined fellow golf icons Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as a ceremonial Masters starter on Thursday, reuniting the Big Three of a bygone era on one of golf’s biggest stages.
“It was a great thrill, having had the wonderful relationship, great friendship, with Arnold and Jack for so many years,” Player said.
The 76-year-old South African, clad in trademark black, watched as Palmer, the longest serving honorary starter of the trio, teed off first. Player followed and Nicklaus went last, all to applause from a crowd at the first tee.
“It was appropriate,” Palmer said. “We played golf all our lives together. We’ve had a pretty good run at Augusta.”
Nicklaus, 72, won an all-time record 18 major titles, including a record six at the Masters, the last in 1986 at age 46. Player won three of his nine career majors at Augusta. Four of Palmer’s seven major titles were at the Masters.
Watching the 1960s legends from the tee box was three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson, on the scene six hours before his scheduled tee time in the opening day’s final group.
“It was quite an honor that he came out,” Player said. “I thought it was nice,” Nicklaus concurred. “I thought it was wonderful,” echoed Palmer.
Palmer, 82, was hospitalized two weeks ago on the last day of the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational and missed giving Tiger Woods the championship trophy that ended his 28-month win drought, but was fit for his Masters duty.
“I’m feeling fine,” Palmer said. “I had a little blood pressure scare. They changed medicine on me. They just wanted to be cautious. After two days, I was home and I was fine. I missed being there for Tiger. I wanted to be there.”
Asked about who would be the big three from modern golfers, Player offered this year’s Masters favorites, 36-year-old Woods with his 14 major triumphs and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who at 22 won his first at the 2011 US Open.
“Who would be the third? Time will sort that out,” Player said. “To be fair, you need to give these golfers more time to determine a big three.”
Nicklaus paid tribute to Woods’ domination until his recent struggles, saying, “There are a lot more players today. Tiger is still the dominant force in the game. There are an awful lot of players that are good.”