- The Augusta Chronicle - Thursday, April 11, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Three strong drives into the early morning mist from three golf legends signaled the beginning of the 77th Masters Tournament on Thursday.

Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus kicked off the Masters with the traditional honorary shots off the No. 1 tee at 7:50 a.m.

Each drive went a little farther than the last, with Palmer and Player splitting the fairway, and Nicklaus rolling it past the others on the left side.

“I hit it about like the one I hit today, only about 100 yards further,” said Nicklaus, when asked how Thursday’s drive compared to his first in Augusta.

“It’s always a nice experience,” Nicklaus said. “You come here, it’s a great drive down Magnolia Lane. It’s a great atmosphere out here, the people love it, enthusiastic. We like it. We like coming here, being a part of it. We’re treated well. It’s nice.”

The three were greeted by rows of patrons who entered the golf course as the gates opened to catch a glimpse of the traditional honorary starters, as well as current and former golfers. Each had a smile on his face before the shot and a look of determination at address.

Jerry Pate, the 1976 U.S. Open champion, made the early morning pilgrimage to the course to watch the Big Three. As a 10-year-old, he traveled with his family to the 1964 Memphis Open just to see Arnold Palmer — a memory he still cherishes.

“He’s still one of my idols, as is Jack and Gary,” Pate said.

After teeing off, Player chatted with old friends outside the clubhouse. At one point, he slapped his stomach to show he’s still fit at 77.

“When I talked about weight training, people thought I was nuts,” he said. “I’m in my 70s and still playing pretty well.

“You can’t let yourself get fat.”

Nicklaus, Palmer and Player have a combined 13 green jackets, including seven in a row between 1960-1966. The sight of all three on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club invokes memories for many, including them.

“We had fun. That’s what it was all about,” Palmer said. “We’ve been doing it together for all our lives, so it’s a great occasion.”

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