By Mark Lamport-Stokes
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - In front of a huge crowd, the 'Big Three' of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player launched the 80th Masters on Thursday while Jordan Spieth prepared to begin his title defense later in the day.
On a glorious morning of bright sunshine at Augusta National, three-times winner Player and Nicklaus, who won a record six Green Jackets, hit the ceremonial first shots at the par-four opening hole while a frail Palmer, 86, looked on.
The 80-year-old Player was thrilled to outdrive Nicklaus by some 15 yards after striking a solid blow right up the middle, his ball ending up below the crest of the hill as a packed gallery cheered loudly.
Fellow golfing great Nicklaus, 76, hit second and pulled his shot left.
Fifteen minutes later, American Jim Herman, a Masters debutant, struck the tournament's first competitive shot by teeing off at the opening hole.
Herman was then followed by Australian Steven Bowditch, who is making his second competitive appearance at Augusta National.
(Editing by Steve Keating)