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Augusta members Palmer and Nicklaus to play Masters

Arnold Palmer, who bid an emotional farewell last year at the
Masters, is returning for an encore.

The 73-year-old Palmer, a four-time winner of the green jacket,
decided Saturday to play in the Masters for the 49th consecutive
year, spokesman Doc Giffin said. That would tie Doug Ford for the
most times playing in the tournament.

Giffin said an announcement was expected Monday from Augusta
National.

''I can only say he loves to play in that tournament,'' Giffin
said.

The decision comes one day after Jack Nicklaus, 63, said he
would play in the Masters for the 43rd time. Nicklaus won the
Masters a record six times, and this is the 40-year anniversary of
his first green jacket.

Palmer, who won his first Masters in 1958, said that last year
would be his final appearance. He shot rounds of 89 and 85,
finishing the second round Saturday morning to standing ovations as
he walked down every fairway and to every green.

''I just think it's time. My golf has been pretty lousy of
late,'' he said then.

Palmer also joked that he didn't want to get a letter, referring
to Masters chairman Hootie Johnson sending letters to some of the
past champions and asking them not to play.

Johnson established a new policy last year that sets an age
limit of 65, provided that a past champion plays at least 10
tournaments the preceding year.

The policy was to go into effect in 2004, but The Augusta
Chronicle reported Saturday that it was about to be rescinded, and The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution said Sunday that former champions received
express mail letters Saturday announcing the change. The Atlanta
newspaper said a public announcement is expected Monday.

''Hmmm,'' Tiger Woods said when told of Palmer's decision.
''Well, I hope he hits it long.''

Nicklaus and his youngest son played a practice round Thursday
at Augusta National with Palmer and his 15-year-old grandson.

The appearance by the Masters' two most endearing champions, not
to mention Woods going for an unprecedented third consecutive
victory, figures to deflect some of the attention away from the
controversy over Augusta National's all-male membership.

Palmer and Nicklaus are the only past champions who are members
of the club, and neither has been willing to comment on the debate.

''That's a great move,'' Woods said about easing the age limit policies. ''We all know a couple of
guys abused the privilege. They would play one hole and withdraw or
nine holes and withdraw. If you could play 36 holes, why not?
That's the beauty of it. Put them off first, so everyone can watch
them play.''

They can watch Palmer one last time, or maybe more.