Masters honorary start pays emotional tribute to Arnold Palmer

"It is a wonderful but in one respect difficult day," Masters chairman Billy Payne said as the 2017 tournament began without Arnold Palmer.

Arnie's Army paid an emotional tribute to its fallen leader on Thursday, as four-time Masters champion Arnold Palmer's absence cast a shadow over 2017's ceremonial honorary start.

For the first time in six decades, Palmer - who died last September - was not at August National for the start of the year's first major.

But his presence was felt everywhere.

Masters chairman Billy Payne escorted Palmer's widow, Kit, to the No. 1 tee box to the applause of an appreciative crowd, almost all of whom were wearing an Arnie's Army button distributed at the gates.

Once there, they draped one of Palmer's green jackets across an empty chair.

"It is a wonderful but in one respect difficult day," Payne said. "For the first time in many, many decades someone is missing from the first tee here at Augusta National. The almost unbearable sadness we feel at the passing of Arnold Palmer is surpassed only by the love and affection we feel for him which will always reside in our hearts."

Payne closed his remarks with a moment of silence "as each of us says our own personal goodbye" to the player they called 'The King'.

With that, Palmer's friends and competitors Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus stepped to the tee, each cracking a joke to ease the emotion. 

Two swings, two balls in the fairway. Nicklaus doffed his cap to the sky.

"Even though my friend Gary Player and I are a year older and maybe a few yards shorter, this first tee time on Thursday of the Masters never gets old,” Nicklaus tweeted later. “It was wonderful to pause and pay tribute to our dear friend Arnold, and I hope from above he offered us a thumbs-up for finding the fairway.”

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