Tom Watson joins Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player as Masters honorary starter

Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson react to the cheering gallery walking off the first tee during the Par 3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, in Augusta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

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Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson react to the cheering gallery walking off the first tee during the Par 3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, in Augusta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Tom Watson will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter at the Masters, beginning this year, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley announced Tuesday.

Watson, a two-time Masters winner, will help open the 86th Masters on April 7, the official start of the tournament.

“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, and the opportunity to share the honorary starter tradition with Jack, Gary and the Masters patrons will be very special.”

Watson won the 1977 and 1981 Masters and finished runner-up three times among his 15 top-10 showings at Augusta National. He is one of 17 players to win multiple Masters, and his 72.74 scoring average ranks fifth in tournament history. After competing in the Masters as an amateur in 1970, Watson made 42 consecutive starts from 1975-2016, the fifth-longest streak in tournament history. His 58 sub-par rounds are second all-time behind Nicklaus (71), and he holds the record for most consecutive years with at least one sub-par round (21, 1975-95).

“I am honored that Tom has accepted our invitation,” Ridley said in a statement. “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.”

The tradition of honorary starters at the Masters began in 1963 with Jock Hutchison (1963-73) and Fred McLeod (1963-76) performing the duties. Other honorary starters include Byron Nelson (1981-2001, non-consecutive), Gene Sarazen (1981-99), Ken Venturi (1983), Sam Snead (1984-2002), Arnold Palmer (2007-16), Nicklaus (2010-present), Player (2012-present) and Lee Elder (2021).

The Masters is scheduled for April 7-10.