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Arnold Palmer

The 1955 Masters was won by Cary Middlecoff. He cleared out the field by seven strokes and made $5,000. It was a dominating performance.

But the most important story from that Masters isn't about Middlecoff. It's about a 25-year-old Augusta rookie who made his first cut at a major. Arnold Palmer finished the weekend with a final-round 69, making him +5 for the tournament. He finished tied for tenth.

From 1955-2016, Palmer never missed a Masters. He played in the tournament through 2004. He was an honorary starter from 2007-2016. On this week for the past 62 years, "The King" was at the forefront of the golf world.

This year's Masters will be the first since Palmer's passing in September, and no one is going to sugarcoat that.

The Masters would not be the Masters without Palmer in its history. He won his first major at Augusta in 1958, fending off Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins by a stroke. His $11,250 prize was the first five-figure payout in major history. It was that year Herbert Warren Wind of Sports Illustrated used the term "Amen Corner" to describe the drama on holes 11, 12 and 13.

Palmer won three more times in 1960, 1962 and 1964. He was a runner-up twice and finished with 12 top tens, 11 of those coming in succession, from 1957-1967.

Augusta National became the main venue for the Palmer-Jack Nicklaus-Gary Player three-way rivalry of the 1960s. From 1960-1966, only those three players claimed green jackets. With the Masters first appearing on national TV in 1956, the three were given a medium to popularize the sport. Palmer became an instant fan favorite. He had served in the U.S. Coast Guard and came from a working class background near Pittsburgh. His dad was the head pro and greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club. "Arnie's Army" followed Palmer around the grounds.

"He was more than a golfer or even great golfer," Nicklaus said after Palmer's death. "He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself." 

Palmer's trips to Augusta were not always pretty. In 1959, he triple-bogeyed the par-3 12th hole to lose by two strokes. In 1961, needing just a par on the 18th hole Sunday to win -- with his drive in the fairway -- Palmer shook hands with a friend in the gallery. He proceeded to shank his approach into a bunker and double-bogeyed to lose by one.

Palmer was human in golf's most haughty venue. He showed fans it was OK to be a humble man in a traditionally upper-class sport. Every time the game knocked him down, he got back up. Palmer never won consecutive Masters, but his four wins came over seven years. His Masters timeline in his prime was a zigzag. Arnie's Army came along for the twists and turns.

Palmer finished playing in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 1994. He played his final British Open in 1995. But Arnie continued at the Masters through 2004.

"Augusta and this golf tournament has been about (as much) a part of my life as anything other than my family," Palmer said after shooting back-to-back 84s to miss the cut in 2004. "I don't think I could ever separate myself from this club and this tournament. I may not be present, I may not be here, but I'll still be a part of what happens here, only because I want to be."

That was 13 years ago. Now Nicklaus and Player will take their opening drives without him. Palmer won't be at Sunday's green jacket ceremony. His locker will be empty.

And he won't be at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night.

"I have a feeling it will be the greatest dinner we've ever had," three-time champion Nick Faldo told "I think it will be very emotional. I think everyone might get up and tell an Arnie story and that could provide a bit of everything from emotion, to laughter, to having a dig at Arnold."

Adds two-time champion Bubba Watson: "I don't even care about the golf. He was always filled with joy. And filled others with joy. That's his legacy."

Palmer will not be on his throne at Augusta for the first time since 1954. But he'll be present. Stories will be told, tears will be shed and Arnold Palmers will be served.

And all will know who The King was and still is.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.