Seventy-seven-year-old Player gets 77th US Masters up and running

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Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus got the 77th Masters under way at Augusta National yesterday, with Player again hitting a drive which the rest of the field would be more than happy with.

Player joined Nicklaus and Palmer as honorary starters for the first time last year and the 77-year-old South African repeated his feat of 12 months ago, finding the right-hand side of the fairway some 250 yards from the tee.

Eighty-three--year-old Palmer also split the fairway, albeit around 50 yards shorter, while Nicklaus, 73, hit marginally the longest drive but pulled it slightly into the pine straw off the fairway.

With that, the trio who used to be known as golf’s ‘Big Three’ – they have 13 Masters titles between them – retired to the clubhouse and allowed the tournament proper to begin.

American Ted Potter carried the “curse” of the par-three champion into the event after Ernie Els, Nick Watney and Bo van Pelt made sure it would not be them.

Nobody has ever won the traditional par-three contest and the Masters in the same week, a fact Van Pelt was clearly aware of as he reached the ninth green at five under par only to let his sons take a putt each and therefore ensure his score could not count.

That left Els, Watney, Potter, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar all tied on four under par, but Els and Watney – who had fired a hole-in-one on the ninth – declined to compete in a sudden death play-off.

Kuchar, Potter and Mickelson returned to the eighth hole and three-time Masters winner Mickelson was eliminated when he could not match the birdies of his opponents, and Potter then clinched the unwanted title with another birdie on the ninth.

Potter will need to defy the odds still further to win the first major of the year on Sunday.

He is playing his first Masters and no debutant has won at Augusta since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

World No 2 Rory McIlroy, who was several over par, had tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki acting as his caddie and let her hit his tee shot on the ninth, only to see her duff it a few yards into the water.