By Larry Fine

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Six-times champion Jack Nicklaus said the time was right to join four-times winner Arnold Palmer for the ceremonial first tee shots at this year's Masters starting on Thursday at Augusta National.

"When I was first asked about it, I was still playing," 70-year-old Nicklaus, who last competed at the Masters five years ago, told reporters on Tuesday. "So I didn't. I had no desire to do that."

Palmer, 80, has struck the honorary first shot as a solo act in recent years and wanted the "Golden Bear" to join him on the tee across from the famed old Augusta clubhouse.

"Billy (Payne, Augusta National chairman) called me and said that Arnold would like to have me do it with him," Nicklaus said. "I'm old enough now. I can do that, guys.

"I thought it would be a nice thing to do. So I'm here. Looking forward to it. I'm sure that we will have a nice time.

"We'll have fun and we'll both belt it out there about 150 (yards)."

Nicklaus had floated the idea to Augusta officials of a competition for older owners of the Green Jacket.

"We talked about lots of things, and they were trying to reduce Masters champions (in the field) to a (certain) age and so forth.

"I thought it might be nice if Tuesday or Wednesday we played nine holes or something ... to get the guys that played and retired (involved). But the Par 3 (Contest) takes care of that and that's fine."

Nicklaus, who reigns as golf's top major winner with 18 crowns, believes 14-times major winner Tiger Woods remains in hot pursuit of his record, despite saying the world number one's top priority now is to get his personal life in order after his highly publicized marital troubles.

"Why do you think he's here?" Nicklaus said. "I mean, I don't think he's here for his health or anything. He's here to play golf.

"It's the first major of the year. He's taking large steps to get his life back in order, and he wants to play golf. He's excited about wanting to play and I think that's great for him and I think that's great for the game."

(Editing by Ian Ransom)