Nicklaus joins Palmer as honorary starter

AUGUSTA -- As always, there will be plenty of star power when the Masters tees off for the 74th time this morning at Augusta National.

While all eyes will be on the stars of today -- such as four-time champion Tiger Woods, defending champion Angel Cabrera and TPC at Sugarloaf resident and defending British Open champion Stewart Cink -- they also will be on a pair of the stars from the past as dawn breaks.

Both of those faces are very familiar, but one of the is a new one, of sorts.

For the first time, six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus will be joining four-time Arnold Palmer as one of the tournament's honorary starters, becoming the eighth such player to do so and continuing a tradition that began in 1963.

It was a role Nicklaus was reluctant to fill until recently, when a request from Palmer -- relayed by current Augusta National chairman Billy Payne -- convinced him now was the time to do so.

"Well, when I was first asked about it, I was still playing (in the tournament)," Nicklaus recalled during a media conference Tuesday. "So, I didn't. I had no desire to do that. Once I stopped playing, I'm now (not) playing for five years. Arnold has done that, (for) that period of time. Arnold asked me if I would do that, be part of it. And you know, I thought that it would be a nice thing to do.

"So I'm here. Looking forward to it. I'm sure we will have a nice time. Actually, I should say, Billy called me and said that Arnold would like to have me do it with him. I'm old enough now, I can do that. We'll have fun and we'll both belt it out there about 150 (yards)."

While Nicklaus says he will enjoy swinging a club at the Masters for the first time in five years, he doesn't think there will be much temptation for either him or Palmer to take more than the ceremonial first tee shot.

"I don't think I'd be allowed to," Nicklaus quipped, drawing laughter from the media members in attendance. "The only thing that's good about that, I don't have to go chase it. It doesn't make any difference where I hit it. I have never seen anybody follow one of those shots yet. No, we are not going to play anymore."

Though Nicklaus' playing days have been over for five years now, he still casts a large presence at Augusta National during Masters week.

His press conference Tuesday drew as many as just about any of the current players not named Tiger Woods.

And while he declined to say much about the controversy surrounding the man chasing him for most career major championships and his recent return to golf after a near five-month hiatus, Nicklaus did answer questions about a variety of questions from the media.

Among those questions was the menu for the annual Champions Dinner selected by defending champion Cabrera. It included blood sausage.

"Oh, I hope he enjoys it," Nicklaus joked. "No, I'm sure it will be very good. I don't even know what blood sausage is."

And while Nicklaus continues to occupy a special place in the hearts of many at Augusta National -- from fellow members to competitors to patrons -- that affection runs the other way, as well, especially with the last of his 18 major titles having come in the 1986 Masters.

"Well, I think they are all very sweet," Nicklaus said of his major titles, including Masters championships in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 and 1986. "I didn't have any one that I didn't like. But I think that the last one when nobody expected me to win, including me, that was obviously very sweet."