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Palmer was clearly pleased with his effort, which settled right in the middle of the fairway. He pumped his right fist as the crowd roared.

“The only nerves are to make sure you make contact,” Nicklaus quipped. “It doesn’t make a diddly-darn where it goes.”

Sandy Lyle, John Peterson and amateur Nathan Smith followed the former champions to the tee, beginning their rounds under gray skies after three warm, sunny days of practice. There was a good chance of rain by late afternoon.

Jim Furyk opened with a 69, while the group at 70 included Lee Westwood, David Toms, Tim Clark and Kevin Na.

If Woods is in contention heading to the weekend, he’ll likely have plenty of competition.

“Obviously, Tiger is Tiger,” said Scott Piercy, who was playing in Woods‘ group along with Luke Donald. “He’s always going to be that target. He knows it, and that’s how he wants it. But there’s a lot of people getting closer. And the golfing gods, or whatever you want to call them, have a lot to do with winning. A bounce here, a bounce there. A lip in, a lip out.”

Three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo said about 20 players could win the Masters, all from what he referred to as the second tier but “pretty darn good.”

Donald, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. Brandt Snedeker and Bill Haas. Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Not to mention three-time winner Phil Mickelson, defending champ Bubba Watson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy.

“Yes, Tiger is the favorite,” Faldo said. “He’s strong. He’s determined. We will see. But he’s going to be chased by a lot of really good players.”

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