By Mark Lamport-Stokes
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Arnold Palmer will be a notable absentee from the annual Par-3 event held on the eve of the Masters due to a shoulder injury, Augusta National Golf Club said on Monday.
The four-times Masters winner, however, still intends to hit the ceremonial opening tee shot alongside long-time friends and rivals Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player before Thursday's first round at Augusta National.
Golf's 'Big Three' have traditionally played together in the Par-3 competition.
"We were sad to learn that Arnold will not participate in this year's Par-3 contest, but his health is most important," Masters tournament chairman Billy Payne said in a statement.
"We are very excited to welcome him to the tee Thursday as an honorary starter, where we will once again honor his extraordinary contributions to the Masters tournament and the game of golf."
Palmer, 85, dislocated his shoulder when he fell during the Father-Son Challenge tournament in December and his place alongside Nicklaus and Player for the Par-3 competition will be taken by twice Masters champion Ben Crenshaw.
"We felt (this) was a fitting way to acknowledge the end of Ben's illustrious 44 years of competition at the Masters," said Payne.
American Crenshaw, 63, won the cherished Green Jacket at Augusta National in 1984 and 1995.
The three elder statesmen of Palmer, Nicklaus and Player have combined to win 13 Masters titles between them. Palmer, who has been an honorary starter at the Masters since 2007, triumphed at Augusta National in 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)