Jack Nicklaus hits opening drive at Masters

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The Independent Online

Twenty-five years after his inspiring Masters win at the ripe age of 46, Jack Nicklaus struck another blow for aging golfers today by ripping a drive up the fairway to start the 2011 championship.

The solid ceremonial hit by the 71-year-old Golden Bear, who outdrove fellow honouree Arnold Palmer, 81, by 60 yards, brought whoops of delight from fans at the first tee.

"It's still kind of fun to whop it off the first tee and be part of a great event," Nicklaus told reporters in front of Augusta National's stately white clubhouse.

"I'd like to go back to some time when I could play," he said about the anniversary. "Twenty-five years later, I'm not playing very much and I'm not playing very well. You stand on the first tee and say, 'hey, I used to be here.'"

Nicklaus, whose 1986 triumph extended his Masters record to six green jackets and took his all-time leading haul of major titles to 18, said he had not lost his competitive fire.

"I hope not, that's what keeps you alive. At least I hit the ball on the face. That was pretty good," he said, quickly adding that one shot was enough for him on tournament day.

"I was quite happy to take my glove off after that tee shot."

Nicklaus, who last played the championship in 2005 for his 45th Masters, was participating in the ceremonial start for the second time.

"I enjoy it a lot. I'm having a good time with it," he said. "People enjoy it."

Nicklaus offered a long list of players that could contend for the title this week at the 75th Masters.

"You've always got Phil (Mickelson) and Tiger (Woods) that will be playing well. Nick Watney is playing very well. (Lee) Westwood has played a lot of great majors and hasn't quite pushed one over the top.

"(Martin) Kaymer is your world's number one, you never count him out. You've got (Rory) McIlroy and you've got Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson who has been playing well.

"Then you've got Luke Donald who you wouldn't normally put on that list because of his length, but he has been playing so well you've got to throw him in, and he's going to have good weather for him. It will be fast and he'll be able to play it.

"It's a pretty wide open tournament."