After playing a charity event Tuesday in South Florida, light banter about their golf turned into a challenge that neither Palmer nor Nicklaus could refuse.
Nicklaus feels so good about his health that he's itching to play more tournaments as he decides whether to compete in the Masters. Palmer thought he was done at Bay Hill until realizing this would be his 50th straight year playing at least one PGA Tour event.
Finally, the King said to the Golden Bear: 'If you play, I'll play.'
And everyone thought the only rivalry next week at Bay Hill was going to be Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, playing together in a stroke-play tournament for the first time this year.
Nicklaus, 63, has not played in the Bay Hill Invitational since 1995, when he missed the cut after rounds of 79-78.
Earlier this week, Nicklaus lamented that he had no time in his schedule to play any more tournaments from now until the Masters. His only opening was next week, and Nicklaus was contemplating a trip to California for the Champions Tour.
That was until Palmer, 73, dared him to play Bay Hill.
Palmer spokesman Doc Giffin said Nicklaus would play in the pro-am Tuesday, fly to Columbus, Ohio, for a previous engagement, then return for the tournament Thursday.
Nicklaus and Palmer will not be paired together in the first two rounds 'unless it's an accident,' Giffin said.
Palmer, the tournament host at Bay Hill, had said after missing the cut last year that he wouldn't play again. He reconsidered after learning that his would make 50 consecutive years playing on the PGA Tour, which is believed to be a record.
'I may play for that reason, to complete the circle,' Palmer said last month.
Palmer issued the challenge to Nicklaus after making four straight birdies and playing well Tuesday in the Gary Player Invitational at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla.
Palmer and Nicklaus first went head-to-head at the 1960 U.S. Open, where Palmer shot a 65 in the final round to beat Nicklaus -- then a 20-year-old amateur -- by two strokes.
When Nicklaus turned pro in 1962, he and Palmer won six of the next nine major championships.
Another bonus for Palmer at Bay Hill: His 15-year-old grandson will be his caddie.
Sam Saunders, a freshman at Trinity Prep in Orlando, played as a marker with Peter Jacobsen in the final round at Bay Hill last year. Saunders is a scratch player who recently won the club championship at Bay Hill.
Woods, meanwhile, officially entered the tournament Tuesday. He is the three-time defending champion at Bay Hill and will try to become the first player to win the same tournament four years in a row since Walter Hagen (1924-27) in the PGA Championship.
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