AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jack Nicklaus said it was his dry-eye condition that was bothering him in Thursday morning’s light breeze as he stood on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club.

But the tears that he had to wipe away from the corners of his eyes seemed to be about something else.

The past three years golf’s “Big Three” from the 1960s — Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player — were reunited as honorary starters on the first tee to start the Masters tournament. Palmer, the four-time winner, had been in that role since 2007. Nicklaus joined him in 2010 after some reluctance to embrace the ceremonial golfer’s role. A record six Masters titles will do that. Player, who claimed three green jackets, joined two years later.

Palmer announced last month he wasn’t going to hit a tee ball this year, citing a lingering shoulder injury. But there is quiet concern here this week about Palmer’s overall health at age 86, especially after he also canceled his traditional pre-tournament news conference last month at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Tuesday night at the Masters champions dinner, Nicklaus said he tried to encourage Palmer to take a swing anyway.

“Arnold, when you’re out there, what if we just take you up and have you hit? I don’t care if you putt it off the tee,” Nicklaus told him. “I think everybody would love to have you do anything.”

“Let me think about it,” Palmer replied.

Thursday morning in the clubhouse, Nicklaus approached Palmer again.

“He said, ‘I’m good,’ ” recalled Nicklaus, who said Palmer is having trouble with his balance. “I said fine, let’s leave it alone.”

They call Palmer The King, and nowhere does he reign more supreme than here at the Masters. The man and the tournament enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. As he won it four times in even-numbered years from 1958-64, the Masters was the launching pad for his immense popularity. Palmer helped launch the Masters’ immense popularity as well as the dawn of the television era. Neither would be the same without the other.

“He’s a hero,” Masters chairman Billy Payne said. “He’s my hero.”

Palmer didn’t walk down the slight slope from the clubhouse front porch to the tee but rode in a golf cart, giving his traditional thumbs up from hands that protruded from the sleeves of his green jacket. Nicklaus helped him out of a chair on the tee as he stood on the tee and waved to the thunderous waves of applause directed his way after he was introduced by Payne. Then he watched as Player, a fit as an 80-year-old can look, then Nicklaus popped their drives up the hill on the first fairway.

Afterward, Player’s remarks about Palmer, who didn’t attend the post tee shot news conference with the other two as in years past, were both touching and telling.

“To have longevity has been a special gift,” Player said. “To come here today and to be on the tee with Arnold being a part of us, it was gratifying and sad, because everything shall pass.

“But it was nice to have him on the tee. I dedicated my first tee shot to him in respect.”

It’s a week here when the youth movement of golf is a palpable thing, with the top three contenders — defending champion and first-round leader Jordan Spieth, world No. 1 Jason Day and No. 3 Rory McIlroy who’s chasing the career grand slam — all in their 20s. The prime of their careers. The prime of life.

But no sport more than golf, and no golf tournament more than the Masters, reveres its traditions and its heroes more. And on this day, the love and concern for Palmer, arguably the most popular golfer of all time, overshadowed everything else.

In 1958, an ailing Bobby Jones, co-founder of the Masters and Augusta National, made one last visit to the home of golf at St. Andrews. It was an incredibly touching moment as Jones, suffering from a crippling and ultimately fatal spinal disease, rose to make a speech. In it he said if he took all his experiences out of his life except for his experiences at St. Andrews, it still would have been full and rich.

As Jones went to leave, the hall full of people began singing the haunting Scottish hymn, “Will Ye No Come Back Again.”

Bonnie Charlie’s noo awa’

Safely over the friendly main

Mony a heart will break in twa’

Should he no come back again

Jones, who died in 1971, never returned to St. Andrews.

As the 80th Masters began to unfold, you could almost hear the haunting Scottish lyrics lilting over Augusta’s lush green hills as Palmer turned to head home. The King departing his kingdom amidst a swell of love and concern and emotion.

Will ye no come back again?

Will ye no come back again?

Better loved ye canna be

Will ye no come back again?

Nicklaus’ eyes weren’t the only ones that weren’t dry.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.