Audio Slideshow: Arnold Palmer, introduced by Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, serves as honorary starter of the 2009 Masters tournament.
Arnold Palmer pumps his fist after hitting off No. 1 as the honorary starter for the first round of the Masters Tournament. The four-time champion hit the shot straight down the fairway.
Arnold Palmer still gets excited when he visits Augusta National Golf Club, even 54 years after his first drive down Magnolia Lane.
Palmer, the honorary starter for the third consecutive year, opened the 73rd Masters Tournament early Thursday morning with the ceremonial first tee shot.
To the delight of Palmer, and the patrons who made the effort to be on hand for the 7:50 a.m. ceremony, the shot went right down the fairway.
"It's a great thrill," said Palmer, who made his Masters debut in 1955.
Augusta National and Masters Chairman Billy Payne introduced Palmer and welcomed the patrons to the tournament.
"No one has meant more to the game of golf," Payne said in introducing the four-time champion.
Palmer quipped: "Mr. Chairman, only one thing: I wanted fog." That was in reference to last year's tee shot, when heavy fog made it hard to see.
Palmer, 79, retired from Masters competition after the 2004 event but agreed to take over the honorary starter's role in 2007.
"What can you say?" he said. "I made contact."
Asked whether he would welcome fellow tournament champions Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to next year's ceremony, Palmer was less certain.
"It's up to the chairman," he said. "I'll listen."
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The tradition began with the 1963 Masters. Six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, who retired from playing in the Masters four years ago, has been invited to be an honorary starter, but has declined. "I'm going to continue to talk to Jack Nicklaus about it," said Masters Chairman Billy Payne. He said he plans to approach Gary Player, who announced Monday that this is his final Masters appearance.
In this StoryJack Nicklaus (Stats | Bio | Photos)Arnold Palmer (Stats | Bio | Photos)Gary Player (Stats | Bio | Photos)