Nicklaus, Palmer kick off Masters

Former Masters champions serve as honoray starters for 75th Masters

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Arnold Palmer pumped his right fist in the air after striping his ceremonial tee shot down the left side of the fairway. Jack Nicklaus followed with a blast down the middle. With 10 combined Masters Tournament titles between them, the two golf legends showed they still have it Thursday morning.
With their opening shots, The King and The Bear officially kicked off the 75th playing of the Masters  at Augusta National Golf Club.
Before the ceremony, two Augusta National members, replete in their green jackets, organized different items on the white table off to the side. Pin placement sheets, scorecards and a final set of rules rested there, along with hundreds of white tees and green pencils.
Augusta National and Masters chairman Billy Payne then grabbed the microphone and addressed everyone.
"Welcome to the 75th playing of the Masters," he said. "Our first starter has been golf's greatest ambassador the past 50 years."
The 81-year-old Palmer, wearing a red sweater, then stepped to the tee. The four-time Masters champion arrived at the course at 6:30 a.m. He hit between 15-20 balls on the practice range before heading over to the first tee. He admitted to being nervous standing on the tee with driver in hand.
"When I stop getting nervous," he said, "I won't be here."
Palmer, who first became an honorary starter in 2007, then knocked his ball down the left side of the fairway. He watched for a moment before punching the air and then high-fiving Nicklaus.
"He was really hitting it well on the range this morning," said Cori Britt, Palmer's caddie and the vice president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises. "It was a great drive."
Payne then introduced Nicklaus, calling him a "true legend." The 71-year-old Nicklaus said to back up and then hit one of his vintage shots, launching his drive down the middle.
"I was quite happy to take my glove off after that shot," he said.
Nicklaus immediately relieved his grandson and caddie, Nick, afterward.
"OK, Nick," Nicklaus said, "duties are over."
As soon as the ceremony ended, Nicklaus and Palmer put on their green jackets before departing the No. 1 tee box.
Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 Masters champion, was part of the crowd that numbered in the thousands lining the first hole. Palmer, a four-time Masters winner, and Nicklaus, a six-time champion, received a standing ovation as they made their way to the tee box.
"I came out to pay my respects for these two guys who have made this game so great," Zoeller said. "They haven't lost it. They may not hit it as far, but their form is still there."

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer stand beside Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament Chairman Billy Payne at today's opening ceremonies.  Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer stand beside Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament Chairman Billy Payne at today's opening ceremonies.

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 orchris.gay@augustachronicle.com

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