- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. — They settled for one shot apiece and made it memorable - not because of how far it went, but because of who was hitting it.

In a ceremonial start unlike any other Thursday morning at the Masters, the opening tee shots were struck by three players who have combined to win 13 green jackets among their 34 majors - Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

It was the first time they were together for the first round at Augusta since 2001, when they were in the same group for the opening two rounds. And it was the first time the Masters had three honorary starters since 1999, when Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson struck the ceremonial shots. Sarazen died a month later.

The moment was special enough for three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson to put on his green jacket and show up at the course for the 7:40 a.m. ceremony, even though he’s in the last group that tees off at 1:53 p.m. Nicklaus called it a “nice compliment,” while Player said it was an extension of how Mickelson treats fans.

Mickelson clearly knew the significance of the moment. Numbers for the “Big Three” at Augusta National might never be matched. Collectively, they played in 147 Masters, finished first or second 21 times and had a nine-year stretch from 1958 through 1966 during which they won eight times.