AUGUSTA, Ga. The 80th Masters got off to a rousing and somewhat bittersweet start at 8 a.m. with the traditional, ceremonial opening tee shots by two of the game’s grandest names, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. The third member of “The Big Three,” 86-year-old Arnold Palmer, joined them on the first tee, but recent back and shoulder injuries prevented him from swinging a club.
Early arriving spectators stood seven- and eight-deep around the opening tee box as the three Hall of Famers made their way from the clubhouse. Palmer rode there in a cart, smiling broadly and giving the thumbs-up sign to one and all. Nicklaus, 76, and Player, 80, walked through a funnel of fans, then drew great roars of appreciation when both cracked drives in the 200-yard range up the first fairway before walking off the course.
“I think everybody was happy to see Arnold out on the tee,” Nicklaus said. “He would have preferred to hit a golf ball. … But I think he was delighted to be out there. … I think it was probably the right thing [for Palmer not to hit]. Arnold’s balance is not good, and that’s what they were worried about.”
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Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw was on the tee himself to witness the scene and said afterward: “We’ve watched those three through the ages. What they’ve done to promote the game is remarkable and so indelibly etched to this place. They’ve meant so much to so many people.”
THE WRONG HISTORY
Ernie Els, a three-time major champion, made it into the Augusta National record book, but not exactly the way he would have preferred.
Playing in his 22nd Masters, Els recorded a nine on the 445-yard, par-4 opening hole, with seven putts, all inside three feet. It was the highest score ever recorded on that hole in tournament history. Els’ worst score at No. 1 over the years was one double-bogey six. Before Thursday, he had 56 pars, seven birdies and 10 bogeys.
Els’ problems began when he missed the green on his approach shot, but he looked to be in decent enough shape for a scrambling par when he chipped his third shot to within three feet of the cup on what has always been a treacherous green. Then came the seven putts, leaving him 6-over-par after his first hole and perhaps leading him to the first missed cut of his career on this storied course. A year ago, he finished second.
Miami native and LPGA veteran Cristie Kerr was honored with the Charlie Bartlett Award for “unselfish contributions to the betterment of society,” at the annual Golf Writers Association of America dinner here on Wednesday night.
Kerr, who has won 18 LPGA events, including two major championships, has raised $3.5 million over the past 12 years to help fund research and treatment for breast cancer. Her mother, Linda, is a breast cancer survivor and was first diagnosed in 2004. The Cristie Kerr Women’s Health Center at the Jersey City Medical Center in New Jersey, which she’s helped support, has done over 100,000 procedures since it opened in 2010.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Kerr said in accepting the award, adding that when her mother was first diagnosed, “I was devastated. I don’t like the feeling of not being in control. I educated myself on what I’d have to do to help with the fight against breast cancer. It’s crazy what we’ve been able to do in such a short period of time.”
Journeyman Jim Herman picked up exactly where he left off this past Sunday, going to the top of the leaderboard with birdies on his first two holes. Herman, 38, won the Houston Open last week, his first victory since earning his tour card in 2011. That triumph earned him the final place in the Masters field of 89, his first appearance in the first major championship of the 2016 season.
Herman, who lives in Palm City, and playing partner Steve Bowditch of Australia played as a twosome and were the first group off the tee at 8:20 a.m. Herman has played full-time on the PGA Tour the past three seasons before finally breaking through in Houston. He even got a congratulatory telephone call Sunday from Donald Trump, his former employer when Herman worked at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey, in 2006-07 as an assistant pro.
But Herman’s good fortune didn’t last very long. He made three bogeys in the middle of his opening nine and shot a first-round 75.