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Original Issue

Three Pack

One (Player) plus two (Nicklaus and Palmer) still equals Big Three

It's a quaintnotion to think that Gary Player got his well-deserved turn in the sun at lastweek's Masters. At 5'7" and a mere 150 pounds, Player has long been thelittlest member of the Big Three, not just physically but--at least in thiscountry--in terms of acclaim. It's not that he doesn't deserve a few momentsalone in the spotlight. He's accomplished a lot, although trying to distinguishwho has achieved more among him, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, is a nearlyimpossible task.

Nicklaus is clearlya step ahead in on-course feats, with his 18 majors, but each has won more than80 professional tournaments and at least seven majors. Their competitionextends beyond the fairways, to the realms of golf course design, business,real estate and even charity. All three have been enormously successful in awide variety of enterprises, yet even now, despite shared smiles, they seemunwilling to concede an inch to one another.

That Player is thelast man standing on the green is more than simply a payoff for never gettingquite the billing of his Big Three brethren. It's the result of a hunger anddrive that have not wavered even as he's gone (ever so gradually) gray. It'sinstructive to note that as the 76-year-old King and the 66-year-old Bearpulled on their green blazers for last week's champions' dinner, they were thepictures of satisfaction: tanned, thick-waisted guys who had flown in on theirpersonal jets. Meanwhile, the 70-year-old Black Knight, still the fitness buffhe was in the '60s, high-stepped through his 49th straight Masters, at which heshot a respectable 79-81 and crowed about how easy it was for him to get up anddown the hills of Augusta National. He figures, he said last week, to play inat least two more Masters, breaking Palmer's record of 50 straight appearancesand scoring another blow in the interminable battle.

It will be a hollowvictory, though. Last week it seemed that almost every shot of Player on thecourse was followed by that same dopey scene of Nicklaus and Palmer next toeach other at the champions' dinner sharing a laugh. The message was twofold:Jack and Arnie are just as happy sitting out, and Gary is not worth talkingabout by himself. At Player's press conferences he fielded endless questionsabout his two contemporaries, as if the assembled media didn't know what tomake of him outside the context of his former rivals. Player has become soassociated with the Big Three that his very presence conjures up Nicklaus andPalmer, although, sadly for him, the opposite is not necessarily true.

As long as we havePlayer, it appears, we will have Nicklaus and Palmer. History will permit theBlack Knight an occasional bow but never, it appears, as a solo act.

The success of the changes at Augusta has put the tournament-ball idea torest.


Dave Martin/AP


Player walked between the giants at the 2001 Masters.


Chris Eliopoulos, Writer; Michael Penick, Artist; Chris Sotomayor, Color