Arnold Palmer, who bid an emotional farewell last year at the Masters, is returning for an encore.

The 73-year-old Palmer, a four-time winner of the green jacket, decided yesterday to play in the Masters for the 49th consecutive year, spokesman Doc Giffin said. That would tie Doug Ford for the most times playing in the tournament.

Giffin said an announcement was expected Monday from Augusta National.

"I can only say he loves to play in that tournament," Giffin said.

The decision came one day after Jack Nicklaus, 63, said he would play in the Masters for the 43rd time. Nicklaus won the Masters a record six times, and this is the 40-year anniversary of his first green jacket.

Nicklaus and his youngest son played a practice round Thursday at Augusta National with Palmer and his 15-year-old grandson.

"Hmmm," Tiger Woods said when told of Palmer's decision. "Well, I hope he hits it long."

The appearance by the Masters' two most endearing champions, not to mention Woods going for an unprecedented third consecutive victory, figures to deflect some of the attention from the controversy over Augusta National's all-male membership.

Palmer and Nicklaus are the only past champions who are members of the club, and neither has been willing to comment on the debate.

Palmer, who won his first Masters in 1958, said last year would be his final appearance. He shot rounds of 89 and 85, finishing the second round Saturday morning to standing ovations as he walked down every fairway and to every green.

"I just think it's time. My golf has been pretty lousy of late," he said then.

Palmer also joked he didn't want to get a letter, referring to Masters chairman Hootie Johnson sending letters to some of the past champions asking them not to play.

Pro Football

Packers to Match Offer

The Green Bay Packers will match the four-year offer sheet given to free agent linebacker Na'il Diggs by the Detroit Lions, Coach Mike Sherman said.

Diggs, a starter in Green Bay the past three seasons, signed the offer sheet with the Lions last Saturday. The Detroit News reported it was worth $10 million and included a $2.8 million signing bonus.

Green Bay had until yesterday to match the offer. If they didn't, the Packers would have received the Lions' fourth-round pick in this year's draft as compensation.

"He is a very valuable member of our defense as well as our football team," Sherman said in a statement. "I'm determined to not let good players leave the Green Bay Packers, and Na'il Diggs is one of those players."


American Finishes Second

American Deena Drossin lost her lead in the final 250 meters of the five-mile race at the World Cross-Country Championships and finished second to Ethiopia's Werknesh Kidane in Avenches, Switzerland.

Drossin, who was attempting to become the first American to win the world long-race title since Lynn Jennings in 1992, completed the event in 26 minutes 2 seconds -- nine seconds behind Kidane -- and was the runner-up for the second straight year.


Bowie to Host All-Star Game

The Bowie Baysox will host the 2004 Eastern League All-Star Game at Prince George's Stadium. The game will be played July 14 between Northern and Southern Division all-star teams.

Both 24-player squads will include one pitcher and one position player from every Eastern League team.

At 73, Arnold Palmer, who has won four green jackets, is set to play in his 49th straight Masters.