Lee Elder, the first Black player in the Masters, will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for ceremonial tee shots Thursday to start the 85th Masters

Augusta (United States) (AFP) - Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to play in the Masters, will make more history Thursday with a ceremonial first tee shot at Augusta National to help launch the 85th edition.

Augusta National will pay tribute to Elder’s legacy when the barrier-breaker joins Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter before a field of 88 begins chasing the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy.

“The courage and commitment of Lee Elder and other trailblazers like him inspired men and women of color to pursue their rightful opportunity to compete and follow their dreams,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said in announcing the honor last year.

Once the ceremony is complete, it will be unheralded American Michael Thompson, ranked 105th, who hits the first competitive tee shot of the year’s first major championship.

Firm and fast conditions will make it difficult to stop the ball on the undulating and lightning-quick Augusta greens, calling for precise tee shots to set up the approaches.

“If the greens are firm and fast, it will be shocking some of the things that will happen,” three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson said.

It’s going to call upon ultimate shotmaking skills from the world’s best golfers before a few thousand spectators, a Covid-19 limited crowd that still mark the first fans at a major since 2019.

“It has been a long time since we’ve had a really dry golf course,and I think it will be fun for everyone playing, but also watching, to see some shots and some strategy,” 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott said. “Has been a few years since we’ve had to think this hard around here.”

Top-ranked defending champion Dustin Johnson will try to become the first repeat Masters winner since Tiger Woods in 2001-2002 while 12th-ranked Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion, seeks a victory to complete a career Grand Slam.

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka will play despite right knee surgery last month that makes bending painful and tricky.

“Doing all the right things. Doesn’t hurt when I swing, so we’ll see,” Koepka said. “If I didn’t think I could win I wouldn’t be here.”

World number three Jon Rahm only arrived at the course on Wednesday after his wife gave birth to their first child on Saturday, the Spaniard hoping a relaxed mind can help overcome not picking up a club for days.

Second-ranked Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, can overtake Johnson for world number one with a victory. He has finished progressively better in every Masters start, placing fourth last year.

Reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau brings his long-driving style to Augusta with hopes dry weather will allow his drives to roll further and boost his chances for a second major title.

England’s 47-year-old Lee Westwood, a runner-up at The Players Championship and Bay Hill, will try to become the oldest winner in Masters history, breaking the age mark of 46 set by Nicklaus in 1986.

Johnson, Westwood and 2020 US Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci tee off at 10:30 a.m. (1430 GMT) while Koepka hopes to make an early charge, teeing off at 10:06 alongside two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and Norway’s Viktor Hovland.

- Spieth in final trio -

Spain’s Sergio Garcia, the 2017 winner who missed last year’s Masters after catching Covid-19, goes off at 10:18 with Webb Simpson and South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

McIlroy, Rahm and sixth-ranked American Xander Schauffele tee off at 10:42.

DeChambeau will be among the latest starters in the heat of the day, joined by fellow American Max Homa and Scott at 1:36 p.m.

Thomas will join US compatriot Tony Finau and South African Louis Oosthuizen in the next and penultimate pairing.

Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who won last week in Texas to snap a four-year win drought, will be joined in the last trio off at 2 p.m. by 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa and Australia’s Cameron Smith, who last year became the only player to manage four rounds in the 60s at the same Masters.