"Big Three" launch 76th Masters at sunny Augusta

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

Under clear sunny skies at Augusta National, four-times champion Palmer, three-times winner Player and Nicklaus, who won a record six green jackets, hit the ceremonial first shots at the par-four opening hole.

Palmer struck a solid blow up the middle of the fairway before Player, on his debut as a ceremonial starter, outdrove him by around 50 yards, his ball ending up above the crest of the hill some 250 yards from the tee.

Nicklaus, the third member of golf's 'Big Three', then hit his drive midway between the two, also splitting the fairway before an excited fan shouted out: "Play on".

Ten minutes later, American Craig Stadler, the 1982 champion, struck the tournament's first competitive shot by teeing off at the opening hole.

British world number one Luke Donald, Italy's Francesco Molinari and American Nick Watney will tee off one group after Woods, Jimenez and Bae.

U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy was paired with 2009 Masters winner Angel Cabrera and American Bubba Watson.

(Editing by Julian Linden)