Tom Watson accepts invite to join Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player as honorary starters at the Masters


Tom Watson, a two-time winner at Augusta National who ranks sixth all time with victories in eight majors, will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters at the Masters this year.

“I am honored that Tom has accepted our invitation,” Masters chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement on Tuesday. “I look forward to commemorating his love for the game and impact on the Masters with his millions of fans across the globe as he hits a tee shot alongside two of the tournament’s other all-time greats, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.”

Watson won green jackets in 1977 and 1981, as well as finishing runner-up three times. His 58 rounds under par at Augusta National — during 43 tournament appearances — rank second only to Nicklaus, and his 72.74 career scoring average on the course ranks fifth all time.

“Augusta National in April is one of my favorite places to be,” Watson said in a statement. “With the many fond memories of both watching the Masters as a youngster and then competing in the tournament for so many years, I am greatly honored to join my friends and fellow competitors, Jack and Gary, as an honorary starter in this upcoming Masters.

“In both of my victories, Jack was on my heels. And when Gary won his third tournament in 1978, I was there to help him put on the green jacket. Moments like those stand out in my career.”

The Masters has had honorary starters since 1963, when Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod began the tradition. Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Ken Venturi, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Lee Elder also have participated in the role.

Elder, who broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters, joined Nicklaus and Player as honorary starters last year. He died in November at age 87.

Nicklaus, the six-time Masters champion, has been an honorary starter since 2010, while Player started in 2012.

While the club was not specific, Watson is likely to be a regular on the first tee each Thursday morning, a simple act that draws thousands of fans around the tee and spilling down both sides of the fairway.

A generation behind the “Big Three” of Palmer, Nicklaus and Player, Watson was the next great one in golf. Of his eight major wins during a Hall of Fame career, only the PGA Championship eluded him. His best moments were with Nicklaus, beating the Golden Bear twice for a green jacket, chipping in to beat him at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open and and winning the fabled “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry in the 1977 Open Championship.

He played his first Masters in 1970 as an amateur, and then returned in 1974 after winning the Western Open for the first of his 39 PGA Tour victories. Watson never missed another Masters until playing the last time in 2016.

The Masters begins April 7.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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