The Big Three reunite to christen Masters Tournament with Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest and ceremonial tee shot Thursday

bigthree12Among the Masters Tournament’s many alluring characteristics is its annual embrace of history and tradition. No names embody golf history more than Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Known globally as The Big Three, the trio of golf greats reunites this week as the marquee group of Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, teeing off ESPN’s coverage of the popular event at 3:00 p.m. ET. The Big Three then will step on the first tee Thursday morning at 7:40 when they serve as Honorary Starters for the Masters Tournament.

The Big Three sat down Tuesday evening prior to the Champions Dinner, and reminisced for more than an hour with Emmy-winning CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz. They then took a walk up the 18th fairway, a historical moment captured and featured on www.masters.com.

“I always enjoy getting together with Arnold and Gary, especially at a place that means so much to all of us,” Nicklaus said. “They are two of my closest friends in golf. We’ll have a good time, share some laughs and a few needles, but rest assured there will be some competitive juices flowing as well when we tee it up. If there wasn’t, something would be wrong with us.”

On Thursday morning, a sea of patrons will surround the first tee when Jack joins Palmer and Player as Honorary Starters. This is Player’s first time serving as Honorary Starter, and he becomes only the ninth in the storied history of the Masters.

The custom of having Honorary Starters began in 1963 with Jock Hutchison (1963-1973) and Fred McLeod (1963-1976) performing the duties. Byron Nelson (1981-2001, non-consecutive), Gene Sarazen (1981-99), Ken Venturi (1983), Sam Snead (1984-2002) and then Palmer (2007-present) continued the practice. The Golden Bear was invited in 2010 by Chairman Billy Payne to join this legendary group.

The Golden Bear made his first appearance at the Masters in 1959 as an amateur. In 45 starts at Augusta National, he became the most decorated Masters champion with a record six Green Jackets, winning in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 and 1986. Among his many remarkable records is his tie for most runner-up finishes (four) and his record as oldest champion (46 years, 2 months, 23 days) with his win in ’86.

The 2012 Masters Par 3 Contest will be held today, starting at 12:30 p.m. ET. Not only will ESPN broadcast the event from 3:00-5:00 p.m., www.masters.com will feature live streaming video coverage of the Par 3 Contest beginning at 3:00 p.m.

First played in 1960 and won that year by Sam Snead, the Par 3 Contest has become a Wednesday tradition at the Masters. The Par 3 course was built in 1958 by architect George Cobb and Clifford Roberts. Tournament participants, non-competing past champions and Honorary Invitees are invited to participate in the Contest. The nine-hole course is par 27, 1,060 yards and played over DeSoto Springs Pond and Ike’s Pond.

No Par 3 Contest winner has won the Masters the same year as his short-course victory.