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Golf's big three open 78th Masters tournament

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AUGUSTA, GA (WTOC) -

The first round of the 78th Masters tournament is underway in Augusta.

The excitement will build toward the weekend in Augusta when the golf season's first major champion is crowned.

We usually see some surprises on the leaderboard on Thursday, but the best part of the first round happens before the first official shots are struck.

Once again this morning, folks arrived early for the best opening ceremony in sports - typical of Augusta national's simplicity and also celebrating its history.

Three of the greatest golfers of all time - Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player returned to Augusta's first tee on Thursday morning to hit the ceremonial opening shots of this Masters.

Thirteen green jackets between them, including seven in a row during one stretch - they are known as golf's big three. For decades, they were rivals, but every April, they get back together in Augusta - to hit one shot each - and renew what has been a lifelong friendship.

"I think the word that comes to mind for me is gratitude that we at our age can till tee it up and so many people are there and so many of you this morning are here to hear what we have to say and it's just been a wonderful journey with these two gentlemen here. We went across the world. We went down gold mines together. We visited my ranch. We've slept at each other's houses. Our wives have known each other and we've had great friendships. We've always wanted to beat each other and we never hid that, but when we did win, we congratulated the other. When we lost, we congratulated the other. And it's been a special journey," said Player, a three-time Masters champion.

That friendship is genuine. Player said it's something you wouldn't see among competitors today in any sport.

But make no mistake, they still compete against each other.

There was some discussion about who hit the longest drive Thursday morning. Player conceded Nicklaus had him by about a yard, but he was quick to point out that used to be 50 yards - so he's still gaining ground.

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