Updated: Friday, 11 April 2014 01:23 | By Agence France-Presse

Camaraderie unites legendary Masters starters

Joking like the old friends they are and competitive as they ever were, golf legends Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer opened the 78th Masters with ceremonial tee shots Thursday.

Camaraderie unites legendary Masters starters

Jack Nicklaus (R) and Gary Player prepare to tee off on the first hole during the 78th Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia - by Timothy A. Clary

Nicklaus, whose career record 18 major titles include six at the Masters, slightly outdrove Player as the icons enjoyed the acclaim of golf fans crowded around the first tee at Augusta National in the morning cold.

"I think Jack outdrove me by a yard or two, but it's not bad when you think he used to outdrive me by 50," Player said.

Nicklaus, 74, kept the honor and achievement in perspective.

"You go out there first of all not to hurt yourself and most of all not to embarass yourself. I hit it pretty solid," Nicklaus said.

"It was such a great thrill every time we teed it up to actually play for real and I think we'd all love to wind the clock back a few years and play because it's such a great tournament.

"Today no butterflies. Just happy to get that first shot over with."

Palmer, 84, won four of his seven major titles at the Masters, the last of them 50 years ago

"You feel a little different," Palmer said of his role. "It's preparation just like for the Masters. To be here is always a great pleasure."

South Africa's Player, 78, took nine major wins, three at Augusta National, and says sport will never see the like of this trio again.

"The word that comes to mind for me is gratitude that we at our age can tee up and so many people are there," Player said.

"It has been a wonderful journey with these two gentlemen. We went across the world. We went down gold mines together. We have had a great friendship. It has been a special journey.

"I don't think... that three athletes have ever in the history of any sports travelled together, been together so much across the world and had an association like we've had. It just doesn't exist anymore and I don't think it ever will again."

The three disagree on how to replace the Eisenhower Tree, removed from the 17th hole after ice storm damage. Palmer wants a similar tree in the same spot, Player no tree at all and Nicklaus something farther than 210 yards off the tee to confound Masters players rather than mainly club members.

Player said that Chinese 14-year-old schoolboy Guan Tianlang, the youngest player in Masters history, winning the low amateur Silver Cup last year was "something I will never forget in my life" and "one of the most significant things we've ever seen," adding, "I don't think you'll ever see anything like that again."

Nicklaus praised American Patrick Reed, one of a record 24 first-time Masters players this year.

"He would be one I think I would have to look at this week," Nicklaus said. "He has got the type of game I think to do well here."

Player joked about Nicklaus about lack of spending, Nicklaus teased Palmer over age and Palmer joked back about his plans to outlast his younger rivals as only old friends could jibe one another.

But with his pals gone, Nicklaus, who helped repeat a question or two for Palmer, said he was sad that physical issues keep Palmer from playing often, making the ceremonial tee moment more poignant and meaningful for Nicklaus.

"That adds a joy in his life," Nicklaus said. "Maybe I will be at that point in my life."

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