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'Legendary champions': Honorary starters begin 88th Masters after rain delay

Apr. 11—AUGUSTA — A little rain and a delay to start the 88th Masters Tournament wasn't going to keep three legends away from their ceremonial tee shots.

Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson arrived to much fanfare on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday morning, although it was a bit later than normal.

Heavy rain earlier in the morning caused a 2 1/2 hour delay in the opening ceremony and the first tee time for the Masters.

Thousands of patrons ringed the first tee to see the three legends of the game. Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters and Augusta National, welcomed everyone.

"Thank you for being with us. Today I have the honor of introducing three legendary champions," Ridley said. "Together they have won a combined 11 green jackets and made an incredible 140 appearances in the Masters across six decades. This morning we add another milestone to their great history."

Player, 88, was the first international golfer to win the Masters.

"It's not easy to put the ball on the tee anymore, is it?" Player asked.

He got a swift reply from Nicklaus: "You can put mine on there, too."

After the gallery settled down, Player striped his tee shot down the middle of the fairway and did a leg kick to celebrate.

Nicklaus, 84, is the tournament's most decorated champion with six victories at Augusta National.

"Here's the hard part," he said, making a couple of grunts as he bent over to tee up his ball. "Watch out on the left and right."

Nicklaus hit the ball with a slight draw — he was known in his playing days for playing a fade — but was happy nonetheless.

"I hit it!" Nicklaus said as he raised both arms in celebration.

Watson, 74, is a two-time winner at the Masters. He couldn't resist a playful jab at Nicklaus.

"Jack, you've never hit a hook off this tee in your life," he said.

Nicklaus replied: "That was a neck pull."

Then Watson fired his tee shot down the middle.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the 2024 Masters is officially underway," Ridley said. "Enjoy the tournament."

The 150-minute delay means that not all of the 89 players would complete their first round Thursday. Those who don't finish will go out on the course to complete the first round early Friday.

The forecast for the rest of the week looks good. Friday is supposed to be sunny and windy, and the weekend looks ideal with sunny and warm conditions.