• AP


Tiger Woods is the defending Masters champion.

That didn’t prevent one reporter from asking him about the possibility of serving as Augusta’s honorary starter some day, perhaps accompanied by longtime rival Phil Mickelson.

“Hopefully that will be us one day,” Woods said, adding with a smile, “and I’ll be hitting bombs past him.”

At 44, Woods still believes he has several years of competitive golf in front of him. He would like to break a tie with Sam Snead for the most career victories on the PGA Tour, and he hasn’t given up on a pair of records held by Jack Nicklaus: six Masters titles and 18 major championships overall.

Mickelson turned 50 in June and appears increasingly unlikely to add to his haul of five major titles, three of them coming at Augusta. He’s even played — and won — a couple of events on the PGA Tour Champions, hoping to build up some confidence.

Even so, Lefty is hardly ready for ceremonial golfer status.

“I mean, that’s really not on our radar right now,” Mickelson said. “If that was something we got asked to do that would be really cool.”

Nicklaus and Gary Player will hit the ceremonial shots to start this year’s Masters on Thursday. Next April, they’ll be accompanied by Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first Black golfer to play the tournament.

“I love how Lee Elder is going to be on the tee,” Mickelson said. “I think that’s really a special thing. I love how the Masters tournament, how the game of golf has really tried and worked hard to get rid of some of our exclusionary past and create a more inclusive present. I’m proud to be part of that.”

Woods has seen the honorary starter role evolve since making his first Masters appearance as an amateur in 1995.

“I had an opportunity to watch Byron Nelson and Sam Snead tee off there, and to see even Jack and Arnold (Palmer) and Gary, and now to have Lee start next year,” Woods said. “Whether it’s Phil and I down the road or whatever it may be, it’s up to the chairman. It’s an honor: You start off the Masters.”

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