AUGUSTA, Georgia (REUTERS) - The 84th Masters began in a surreal atmosphere as starters Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit the ceremonial first tee shots in near darkness at Augusta National on Thursday before play was suspended because of lightning.
Nicklaus and Player emerged from the clubhouse at 6.57am, the exact minute of sunrise, and strode to the tee before daylight had even punctuated the gloom in a light drizzle, as a drone buzzed nearby to film the occasion.
Despite this being a Masters like no other, without paying spectators due to novel coronavirus concerns, several hundred people surrounded the tee, mostly members and their guests.
Augusta chairman Fred Ridley introduced the players, and Player was first to hit. Swinging better than an 85-year-old has any right to do, he took a full backswing and struck the ball down the left side of the fairway.
Nicklaus, 80, followed suit with a swing slightly shorter than in his heyday that brought him 18 major championships. He too found the fairway.
"I was pleased it was dark because you didn't see where the ball went," Nicklaus said.
And with that the first Masters played in autumn was officially underway, though the first tee times were delayed by 10 minutes until 7.10am.
However, less than 30 minutes of play was possible before competition was suspended due to lightning in the area, with only nine players having completed one hole.
The tournament is using a two-tee start due to the short daylight hours at this time of year.
Nobody in the first threesome parred the most difficult par-four 10th, with Jimmy Walker and Sandy Lyle making bogey, while left-handed Chinese amateur Lin Yuxin had a double-bogey after duffing a chip shot.
Thunderstorms are forecast for much of the morning, before they are expected to clear up and pave the way for fine weather over the rest of the tournament.
Tiger Woods is defending champion, while fellow American Bryson DeChambeau is the favourite.