Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that 77 golfers were competing at this year's tournament. There were 97 competitors. This version has been corrected.


Four-time Masters champion Arnold Palmer stands on the eighth green during the par-3 contest Wednesday. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Thursday morning, Arnold Palmer will be on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club, joining fellow legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in hitting ceremonial shots that will open the 78th Masters. This is, though, the 50th anniversary of the last of Palmer’s four Masters titles.

Palmer is 84 now, and somehow, he looks back at that Masters — the last of his seven major titles — and wonders whether he should have accomplished more.

“I use the word ‘psychological’ because it may have caused a letdown and cost me more than I had anticipated,” Palmer said. “Had I had the same driving desire to win before, I might have won a few more Masters or a few more Opens or a couple PGAs. Who knows? . . . Psychologically, it affected me.”

Palmer has hit the opening tee shot since 2007. He was joined in 2010 by Nicklaus, and Player made it a threesome in 2012. Palmer said he would allow Billy Payne, Augusta National’s chairman, to determine when he should stop the tradition.

“If he wants me to hit that first tee shot and I have to crawl,” Palmer said, “that’s what I’ll do.”

Payne addresses change

Payne said Wednesday that the club, which admitted its first female members in 2012, wouldn’t take a formal stance on the R&A’s proposal to allow women into its club. Payne, though, said admitting Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore “remains a very good decision on our part” and gave an indication of his personal feelings on the subject.

“I’m proud to be a member of the R&A,” he said, “and I bet you can guess how I’m going to vote.” . . .

Payne also said the club made no changes to its protocol regarding rules officials following last year’s controversy surrounding a bad drop by Tiger Woods. Tournament officials decided to penalize Woods two strokes rather than disqualifying him from the tournament for signing an incorrect scorecard.

The Masters does not employ a walking rules official with each group, as do other majors. Instead, Payne said there are roughly 60 officials scattered across the course — which he said is more than any other tournament.

“We think the way we do it is pretty good,” he said, “which is not to say that we would never consider a change.”

Payne also said the club had not yet decided how to commemorate the iconic Eisenhower Tree, the loblolly pine along the 17th fairway that fell victim to a February ice storm.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

The field of 97 players includes seven Australians, led by defending champion Adam Scott. But a month ago, the number would have been just four — Scott, Jason Day, Marc Leishman and amateur Oliver Goss.

But Australians won three of the last four events on the PGA Tour, starting with John Senden in Tampa, then Steven Bowditch in San Antonio and Matt Jones, on the strength of a winning chip-in, in Houston. Each victory earned a berth here. The Australians, a close-knit group, believe there is a connection in their success.

“It’s motivation when you see the other guys that you know well doing it, that you’re certainly very pleased for them,” Scott said. “But you also have that thing where you believe it can be yourself doing it.” . . .

Ryan Moore won the annual par-3 contest, getting to 6-under par in the nine-hole event. No winner of the contest has gone on to win the Masters.