Palmer's tee shot opens Masters, revives tradition
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Arnold Palmer stepped up to a first teebox that used to be the practice green Thursday and kicked off the Masters with a tee shot that looks nothing like what he used to hit when he ruled the course.
Palmer's shot into the left rough, about 100 yards short of the bunker that's in play for the big hitters, marked the ceremonial start to the year's first major.
"That little draw off that first tee kept me out of the sand trap up there," Palmer joked.
For plenty of other players, that sand trap will be well in play on the 455-yard first hole.
It was all part of the plan when the powers at Augusta started super-sizing their course -- first in 1999 and again in 2002 and 2006. They got tired of watching players drive over that trap that Palmer joked about, to say nothing of all the other holes that were being overpowered and turned into pitch-and-chip displays.
Unlike some recent slogfests, where rain and muck softened things up and took away all the roll, dry, sunny and cool conditions are expected this week. Palmer teed with temperatures in the 40s.
The King at the first hole marked the return of a tradition -- having former champions start the tournament -- that went on hiatus after Sam Snead's death in 2002.
At first, Palmer was reluctant to take on a ceremonial role when he called it quits after the 2004 tournament. He hadn't been competitive in years, but the saddest moment came when he realized he couldn't even keep it respectable on the expanded course. He hit driver-driver on No. 18, his last competitive hole at Augusta.
"It's a hard bullet to swallow when you see the guys hitting the ball as far as they are and playing the kind of golf they are, and to know that you're not going to do that anymore," Palmer said. "And I've known it for a number of years now."
A year later, Jack Nicklaus hung it up.
Among the legends, only 71-year-old Gary Player is still playing -- promising to compete for two full rounds, even though this course from the championship tees is no longer fit for the seniors.
Soon, it figures, Player might be asked to join Palmer in the ceremonial role.
The King said he's glad he took it on.
"Seeing what happened when they opened the gates was also quite a thrill," Palmer said, acknowledging the hundreds of fans who hurried to catch a glimpse of his tee shot. "Seeing those people come in, obviously that's what it's been about for me for a long time."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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