Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002.
For a few enjoyable moments Thursday morning, the Masters belonged to the Big Three, just as all of golf used to be. Looking back on it, the beauty of the Arnold Palmer-Gary Player-Jack Nicklaus era was in the fact that they were in it together, sharing an intense triangular rivalry and friendship.
"We've been doing this together all our lives, so it's a great thing," said Palmer, 83, the first of the Big Three to hit ceremonial tee shots. He was especially proud that it went right down the middle. Then the three left, handing the tournament back to the present day.
Golf is a much different sport and industry now. There is no Big Three or a Proud Pair. Golf revolves around a Big One, Tiger Woods, which is both a tribute to him and a shame.
Woods is in his own sphere, so far ahead of even the other great players of his era that he and they can't seem to speak the same language. At the same time, Woods seems to prefer to stand apart -- even from the only man on the planet who can appreciate his level of golf greatness. No, Woods does not have Nicklaus on speed dial.
"I never really had a conversation with Tiger that lasted more than a minute or two -- ever," Nicklaus, 73, told The Associated Press after he and his two old buddies/foes/business partners had left the first tee. "He stayed away from me from a conversation standpoint. Never had a conversation on the Masters in general. I've said, 'Hello, how are you doing? Nice playing this year. You've played very well.' End of conversation. People ask me, 'Has Tiger ever talked to you about his record?' Never one word."
Nicklaus added that he wasn't angry, that he realizes that Woods has his own way to focus. But it looks to this peanut stand that Woods sees other great golfers as opponents and he likes to keep his distance from opponents -- even one who is long retired with the record for major titles (18) that Woods covets.
Maybe Woods would not be as successful if he were closer to other people in golf. Or maybe he would have enjoyed the ride more. Maybe he could have avoided some of his pitfalls. We don't know because we are not in his Nike shoes.
What we do know is that no one draws crowds, attention and television ratings the way Woods does. He is in position to do all three this weekend after a solid 70 in the first round Thursday, putting him in a 10-way tie for 13th place, four shots behind Sergio Garcia and Marc Leishman.
Seventy is a lucky number for Woods: Four times he has shot 70 in the first round at Augusta and three of those times he has finished the week with a green jacket. The other time, 2009, he finished tied for sixth (he also won in 2005 after having opened with a 74).
"It's a good start," he said. "Some years, some guys shot 65 starting out here. But right now I'm only four back and I'm right there."
Given how much he knows about golf history, it probably wouldn't surprise Woods to learn that the Golden Bear's first-round stroke average in his six Masters wins was 69.83 -- rounded off, that sure looks like 70.
In any case, Woods did not deny the dearth of heart-to-hearts with Nicklaus. "I see him at Memorial and we'll have chitchat here and there. We have a few conversations here and there, but he's right, we haven't spent that much time," Woods said. "When it's a major championship, we're all very busy and we're all in our own little worlds. And he gets it, he was there himself."
Except that Nicklaus had company.