|Honorary starter Arnold Palmer (right) is congratulated by fellow golf greats Gary Player (left) and Jack Nicklaus (centre) after hitting his drive during the ceremonial tee-off before first round play in the Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., on Thursday, April 5, 2012. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
AUGUSTA, GA. - Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player own 13 green jackets between them and the trio opened the 76th Masters with ceremonial tee shots Thursday morning.
This is the 50th year the Masters has had honorary starters. All three former champions found the fairway with their tee shots.
Nicklaus, 72, Palmer, 82, and Player, 76, teed off at 7:40 a.m. (et) before the first group that included 1982 Masters champion Craig Stadler, Brendon Steele, who is playing his first Masters, and 2006 runner-up Tim Clark walked to the first tee.
Play started under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 60s. The conditions are ideal early this morning, but there are storms forecast for late Thursday afternoon that could affect play late in the day.
The last weather delay was in 2008.
Defending champion Charl Schwartzel is slated to tee off mid-morning in front of the group that includes four-time winner Tiger Woods. Schwartzel is paired with PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley and reigning U.S. Amateur champ Kelly Kraft.
Woods is playing the first two rounds with European Ryder Cup foe Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sang-Moon Bae.
The final two groups on the course Thursday have plenty of star power. Rory McIlroy, the reigning U.S. Open champ and last year's 54-hole leader at Augusta, is paired with 2009 winner Angel Cabrera and Bubba Watson in the penultimate group.
The final group on Thursday includes three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, a two-time winner this season, and Peter Hanson, who has top- five finishes in the season's first two World Golf Championship events.
On Friday, Woods' group will be the next-to-last threesome off. The final trio on Friday afternoon includes world No. 1 Luke Donald, Francesco Molinari and Nick Watney.
Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington and Jonathan Byrd shared the title at the annual Par 3 contest on Wednesday. The event was shortened by storms that softened Augusta National.
First, no Par 3 winner has won the Masters the same year. Secondly, the last European to win the Masters was Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999, while Nick Faldo was the last Englishman to win the green jacket and that was in 1996.