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From left, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus shake hands after hitting ceremonial drives on the first tee during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 10, 2014, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis compton) MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT
Golf: Masters opens with Woods on the sideline
First Published Apr 10 2014 08:49 am • Last Updated Apr 11 2014 04:27 pm

Augusta, Ga. • The Masters began Thursday with three shots right down the middle of the fairway.

Just not terribly far.

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Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus hit the ceremonial tee shots with fans already lining both sides of the first fairway on a brisk, sunny morning. Still competitive even after all these years, Nicklaus went last and hit a drive that went about a yard past Player’s shot.

"But it’s not bad when you think he used to outdrive me by 50," Player quipped.

The "Big Three" combined to win 13 green jackets, including seven in a row at the start of the 1960s.

This Masters is far less predictable. Without Tiger Woods or a dominant figure, it’s seen as the most wide-open Masters in years.

A bunch of brash Augusta rookies are eager to fill Woods’ shoes, and the last two dozen majors have been divvied up among 21 winners.

Early Thursday, Webb Simpson birdied the first three holes and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt also was at 3-under par, shooting 33 on the front side. Stewart Cink, Kevin Stadler, Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker were at 1 under.

Ryan Moore, who won the Par 3 contest Wednesday, thinks it might be time to break the curse of that winner never winning the tournament.

"You never know," he said. "Someone has got to break that (Par 3) curse at some point in time, so hopefully it’s me. Who knows? I might go shoot 8 under or something, make a couple of hole-in-ones."


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As unlikely as that sounds, pretty much everything else is up for grabs at this Masters. Recovering from back surgery, Woods is sitting out the opening major of the year for the first time since turning pro.

Even as his dominance waned in recent years, he was always the clear-cut favorite coming into Augusta, where he has won four times.

Now, as Moore said, who knows?

Jason Day, Sergio Garcia and former Masters champion Zach Johnson are the only players from the top 10 who have won anywhere in the world this year. Only one of the past seven winners on the PGA Tour was ranked in the top 75.

"I think if you’re outside the top 50 in the world this week, you’ve got a great chance," U.S. Open champion Justin Rose said with a laugh.

Woods is out of golf until the summer, but the show goes on at a tournament that rarely fails to deliver plenty of drama.

"It’s a huge loss," defending Masters champion Adam Scott said. "But, as every year here, this event produces something special no matter what. It just has a way of doing it. It’s not going to involve Tiger this year, but it will involve someone else and it will be a memorable event anyway."

It could be Scott, trying to take over as the world’s No. 1 player and join Woods, Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only back-to-back winners.

Or it could be Phil Mickelson, who last year won the British Open at age 42 and now has a chance to join Woods and Palmer with a fourth green jacket.

While Woods last won the Masters in 2005, he had finished out of the top six only once since then.

That’s what made him such a compelling figure at Augusta.

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