Saturday 20 January 2018

WATCH: Emotional scenes as Jack Nicklaus claims starter bragging rights with a little help from Rory McIlroy

Honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, left, and Gary Player observe a moment of silence for Arnold Palmer
Honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, left, and Gary Player observe a moment of silence for Arnold Palmer

Phil Casey

Jack Nicklaus was able to claim bragging rights for the first time in three years - with a little help from Rory McIlroy - after joining Gary Player in getting the 81st Masters under way on Thursday.

Player and Nicklaus continued their role as honorary starters by each hitting a tee shot on the opening hole, with 77-year-old Nicklaus producing the longest drive by five yards from 81-year-old Player.

That followed emotional scenes on the first tee as Arnold Palmer's widow Kit was accompanied by Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, who paid tribute to the four-time Masters champion following his death at the age of 87 in September.

Each spectator had been given a commemorative ''Arnie's Army'' badge and a green jacket had been draped over a chair on the tee.

"Welcome one more time to Arnie's Army," Payne said. "This is a wonderful but in one respect difficult day.

"For the first time in decades someone is obviously missing. The unbearable sadness about that is surpassed only by the level of affection. He was more than the King and it hurts that he is not here today."

Palmer had acted as an honorary starter since 2007, although he had been unable to hit a shot last year due to a shoulder problem.

McIlroy had revealed on Tuesday that he had helped to adjust Nicklaus' driver the day before when the pair met at The Bear's Club in Florida.

"It's amazing how competitive he still is," McIlroy said. "I told him if he hits it longer than Gary I want a mention because I adjusted the weight in his driver.

"He kept hitting it left. I adjusted it for him and he started hitting these little fades. I was like, 'perfect, there you go'."

With the formalities out of the way, Daniel Summerhays and Russell Henley got the tournament proper under way, Henley having claimed the last place in the 94-man field by winning the Shell Houston Open on Sunday.

Whether 94 players would actually start remained to be seen, however, with world number one Dustin Johnson hoping a late start would help rescue his bid for a fourth straight victory.

Johnson injured his back after suffering a "serious fall" in his rented accommodation on Wednesday afternoon after the cancellation of the traditional par-three contest due to bad weather.

"He landed very hard on his lower back and is now resting, although quite uncomfortably," his agent David Winkle said in a statement. "He has been advised to remain immobile and begin a regimen of anti-inflammatory medication and icing, with the hope of being able to play."

Johnson, who missed the 2012 Masters after reportedly injuring his back when lifting a jet-ski, at least had the advantage of being in the final group out on Thursday at 2:03pm local time.

Tournament officials said that 1.4 inches of rain had fallen on Wednesday but that there had been no damage to the course, with a stiff breeze helping to dry it out.

Press Association

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