Gary Player set for 50th Masters start

South African legend Gary Player will equal a record in Augusta on Thursday with his 50th Masters start, matching Arnold Palmer’s mark even as one of his own Masters records is challenged.

The 71-year-old icon won three Masters titles, including the first by a non-United States golfer in 1961 as well as in 1974 and 1978, and nine major crowns overall, including three British Opens, a US Open and two PGA Championships.

No one has played more tournament holes at Augusta National Golf Club than Player, whose 30 cuts made rank behind only six-time winner Jack Nicklaus. Palmer made the 36-hole cut in only half his starts.

”If there is a golf course in heaven, I hope it’s like Augusta National. But I’m in no hurry to tee off,” Player has fondly said after past year’s trips down Magnolia Lane.

Player made a Masters record 23 consecutive cuts from 1959 to 1982 but that mark could be matched this year by US veteran Fred Couples, who has not missed a Masters cut since his 1983 debut although a back injury kept him out in 1994.

Couples (47) won his only major title at the Masters in 1992 and played alongside eventual winner Phil Mickelson in last year’s final group before settling for a share of third, his best Masters finish since second in 1998.

Palmer, who played his final Masters in 2004, said he is not interested in using his past champion’s exemption to make one more march around Augusta to stay ahead of Player.

”Gary Player is going to do whatever he can to top whatever I’ve done. That includes living longer or whatever,” Palmer said. ”He is a hard worker. He’s a great guy. So whatever he does, I think it’s great.”

Player’s legacy is as a globetrotting golfer, making him the standard for a new era of worldwide golfers such as his compatriot Ernie Els and a host of Australians and Asians whose best recent example was Greg Norman.

”Gary has made a wide contribution to international golf,” Palmer said. ”He is a never-ending guy that travels all the time. I wouldn’t do what he does to tell you the truth. He’s probably going around the world seven times this year.

”And he’s flying commercially. I wouldn’t do that.”

World number one Tiger Woods, a 13-time major champion, could only marvel at how great Player’s legend would be today had the prime of his career come in a modern era of private airplanes.

”Remarkable. He was the first real global player. He played everywhere,” Woods said. ”It’s hard to imagine. Ernie does it now. He has his own [plane]. Jack and Arnold, they said flying privately has prolonged their career.

”Just imagine if Gary would have come along in this day and age, if he was that successful and flown privately and played all over the world with the success he’s had.”

And, Woods notes, that was when he was switching equipment on every continent to make the marketing riches that are dwarfed by what even one modern deal brings.

”He had different club deals so he played here with one brand, in Europe with one brand, in South Africa with another, Asia and Australia with another — pretty good talent, different clubs and balls everywhere you go,” Woods said.

Player, Palmer and Nicklaus remain golf rivals in the development of new courses in China, where Palmer says the next great evolution of golf is coming.

”Something that we will see in the very near future are more and more golf courses in China,” Palmer said. ”I built the first golf course in China. And we’ll see more and more golf courses in Russia. That’s happening now.

”Call them whatever you want, the governments. Whether it’s Communist or Socialist or democracy, whatever — the wealth of the world is enjoying the game of golf now and we are going to see more and more golf courses.

”I’m building one in Beijing, doing Asia quite a lot, and Gary Player is doing the same thing and so is Jack Nicklaus. So we’re competing. I think it’s wonderful and I think it will get bigger and better.” – Sapa-AFP

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Jim Slater
Jim Slater
Sports Editor Agence France-Presse (AFP).

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