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updated: 4/10/2014 9:28 AM

Will Tiger ever be as beloved as golf's Big Three?

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  • Gary Player, left, watches as Jack Nicklaus reacts to his tee shot on the first hole during the Masters Par-3 competition Wednesday.

      Gary Player, left, watches as Jack Nicklaus reacts to his tee shot on the first hole during the Masters Par-3 competition Wednesday.
    Associated Press

 
 

The snapshots never get old even if the subjects have.

Arnold Palmer (84 years of age), Gary Player (78) and Jack Nicklaus (74) played Wednesday in the Masters Par-3 Tournament.

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Thursday the same threesome will hit ceremonial tee shots to start the Masters itself.

So I'm wondering whether Tiger Woods ever will agree to play that honorary role … and what the gallery's response to him would be.

Back surgery scratched Woods from this event for the first time in nearly two decades. It wouldn't be surprising if vanity prompted him to abstain from standing on ceremony 30 or 40 years from now.

The crowd at Augusta loved seeing Nicklaus, Player and Palmer tee it up together for perhaps -- you never know -- one last time.

It was like the baseball old-timers games that you don't see much anymore. For many fans, these are trips back into childhood and breaths of refreshed air.

So it was when Palmer, Nicklaus and Player took their cuts on the Par 3s at Augusta National.

It could have been painful to watch as Palmer walked his age, Nicklaus' belly projected a life well spent and even fitness nut Player's wrinkles betrayed him.

But it wasn't painful. It was fun to see them having fun just being out in the sun again playing in front of old friends and making new ones.

So, will Tiger Woods ever consent to being a ceremonial golfer on a platform like the Masters? Or will he consider his legacy to be too big for that.

Woods has risked embarrassment during his career -- due to injury -- but that was playing for major championships, chasing hallowed records and padding his net financial worth.

Decades from now none of that will be at stake. The only things to play for will be the love of golf, to give back to the game and to hear the addictive roar of the crowd.

Will that be enough for Woods to subject himself to being well short of the green on a short par 3, as Palmer was, or to hit the ball well into the water on another short par 3, as Nicklaus did?

The Masters will search for a couple of suitable playing partners for Woods, but he's not accustomed to sharing the stage.

Woods always -- through good times and bad -- has been a stand-alone golfer, a one-of-a-kind golfer, a once-in-a-generation golfer.

Not even Nicklaus was as far ahead of Palmer and Player as Woods has been ahead of, say, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.

So Woods' decision in something like 2050 will be interesting, but for the sake of conversation let's say he consents to being ceremonious. Will one of the most polarizing athletes be embraced by then like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player are now?

A good guess is yes, Woods will be treated with reverence because maybe more than any crowds, golf galleries love to love, worship and adore the men they pay to see.

But will Woods be genuinely beloved or just ceremoniously respected?

This case is different in a time that's different because of smut sheets, social media and paparazzi.

We thought we were watching the golfer who would surpass Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles. Woods still might reach that pinnacle, but time is running out as he teeters toward the dark side of his prime.

If mere injuries threatened Woods' legacy he might be even more admired over the years. But personal indiscretions threw him off his game and left his fans, golf fans in general and sports fans overall longing for more than he has given them so far.

There's a good chance that 40 years from now, history still will recall Palmer, Nicklaus and Player more fondly than it does Woods.

Some snapshots age better than others.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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