The Masters gets underway with Nicklaus, Player and Watson hitting ceremonial first shots


The Masters got underway Thursday after a 2 1/2-hour weather delay with wind still whipping under a cloudy sky, the first time since July at the British Open that golf’s best players have come together on the same course for the same tournament.

Six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, with his wife Barbara on the bag, joined three-time winner Gary Player and two-time champion Tom Watson as thousands of patrons surrounded the first tee to watch them hit the traditional opening shots.

“It’s not so easy to put the ball on the tee now, is it?” Player asked the others, before striping one down the fairway.

“Watch out on the left and right,” Nicklaus quipped, before he, too, drove it right down the middle.

Erik van Rooyen and Jake Knapp were the first competitors to tee off, while the heavy hitters from both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf were scattered in featured groups throughout the day. Those with later tee times, including Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, were unlikely to finish before dark, meaning they would need to return Friday to finish their first rounds.

Scottie Scheffler putts on the 10th hole during a practice round in preparation for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Augusta, GA. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

It’s the sixth consecutive year that the weather has delayed at least some portion of the Masters.

There are 13 players from Saudi-funded LIV Golf in the field this year, including defending Masters champion Jon Rahm, who left the PGA Tour for millions in guaranteed money late last year. That is down from 18 a year ago, when nobody was quite sure how the rift between the breakaway league and the long-established PGA Tour would shake out at Augusta National.

That continued schism is only one of the many storylines this year, though.

Scottie Scheffler, the 2022 champion and world’s top-ranked player, is the biggest betting favorite at 4-1, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, since Woods ruled nearly two decades ago. Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut last year, is trying for the 10th time to complete the career grand slam. Woods is playing for only the second time this year because of illness and injury.

Scheffler and Sam Burns have wives each expecting their first child. Both players have said they would withdraw if they learned their wives had gone into labor, though that’s hard to believe if they were leading on the back nine on Sunday.

Last year, the weather pushed the conclusion of the third round into Sunday, and Rahm began the marathon day in a four-shot deficit to Brooks Koepka. He halved it by the start of the final round, and Rahm became the fourth Spaniard to win a green jacket with a four-shot victory over Koepka and Phil Mickelson, who closed with a round of 65 at the age of 52.

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