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Player: Sergio Garcia

  • Heading into the final round of the Masters, Jordan Spieth remains in the same position he has been in for each of the last seven Masters rounds: the lead. 

    However, Spieth's lead is just one shot, and with improved weather expected on Sunday, the 22-year-old can expect a slew of challengers to make a run at Augusta National. Spieth, looking to become the third player in Masters history to successfully defend the title, will play on Sunday with 24-year-old Smylie Kaufman, who got into his first Masters by virtue of a win in last year's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. The final pairing starts at 2:45 p.m. Eastern.

    The group going off in front of them by 10 minutes comprises the only other two players under par through 54 holes: 58-year-old, two-time Masters winner Bernhard Langer and Hideki Matsuyama.

    Here are the final round Masters pairings and tee times:

    9:45 a.m. -- Kevin Na
    9:55 a.m. -- Cameron Smith, Romain Langasque (a)
    10:05 a.m. -- Thongchai Jaidee, Ian Poulter
    10:15 a.m. -- Larry Mize, Martin Kaymer
    10:25 a.m. -- Hunter Mahan, Justin Thomas
    10:35 a.m. -- Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson
    10:45 a.m. -- Henrik Stenson, Kevin Streelman
    10:55 a.m. -- Kevin Kisner, Victor Dubuisson
    11:05 a.m. -- Bernd Wiesberger, Troy Merritt
    11:15 a.m. -- Anirban Lahiri, Keegan Bradley
    11:35 a.m. -- Shane Lowry, Patrick Reed
    11:45 a.m. -- Adam Scott, Harris English
    11:55 a.m. -- Davis Love III, Webb Simpson
    12:05 p.m. -- Scott Piercy, Rafa Cabrera-Bello
    12:15 p.m. -- Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Danny Lee
    12:25 p.m. -- Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau (a)
    12:35 p.m. -- Matt Fitzpatrick, Jamie Donaldson
    12:45 p.m. -- Bill Haas, Charley Hoffman
    12:55 p.m. -- Jimmy Walker, Chris Wood
    1:05 p.m. -- Emiliano Grillo, Paul Casey
    1:25 p.m. -- Matt Kuchar, Billy Horschel
    1:35 p.m. -- J.B. Holmes, Louis Oosthuizen
    1:45 p.m. -- Justin Rose, Angel Cabrera
    1:55 p.m. -- Daniel Berger, Rory McIlroy
    2:05 p.m. -- Brandt Snedeker, Soren Kjeldsen
    2:15 p.m. -- Danny Willett, Lee Westwood
    2:25 p.m. -- Jason Day, Dustin Johnson
    2:35 p.m. -- Bernhard Langer, Hideki Matsuyama
    2:45 p.m. -- Jordan Spieth, Smylie Kaufman


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • New year, new Masters, but Jordan Spieth remains in a groove as comfortable as a good recliner.

    Spieth leads after the first round at Augusta National on Thursday, opening with a bogey-free, 6-under 66 that has him two clear of Danny Lee and Shane Lowry. 

    The 22-year-old Texan, who went wire-to-wire to win his first major championship here last year, has held the solo lead for five consecutive Masters rounds. Arnold Palmer went wire-to-wire in 1960, then shared the lead for the first two rounds of the 1961 Masters. That's as close to Spieth's dominant run as has ever been seen at Augusta National. 

    While Spieth remains atop the leaderboard, several of his challengers from a year ago are still in pursuit. Justin Rose, who finished tied for second last year, is tied for fouth place at 3-under along with Masters mainstay Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Soren Kjeldsen. Of the eight players right after Spieth on the leaderboard, there's nearly one-third of the likely European Ryder Cup team this fall. (Casey would make the team if he were a European Tour member.)

    Rory McIlroy, who posted a career-best fourth-place finish last year, had gotten it to 4-under before two bogeys in the final three holes to shoot 2-under 70.

    Meanwhile, several pre-tournament favorites got off to solid starts before fading in bewildering fashion.

    World No. 1 Jason Day played a near-perfect first nine, shooting 5-under 31. Day was still at that figure, one behind Spieth, through 14 holes, when he three-putted the par-5 15th for bogey and made a confounding triple-bogey 6 on the par-3 16th. He bogeyed the next hole for good measure to bring him all the way back to even-par 72. That's a popular position for a number of major winners and other attractive pre-tournament names, including three-time champion Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen.

    Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson was 3-under par early in his round, but, like Day, he collapsed quickly. Watson bogeyed the ninth, 11th and 12th holes to fall back to even par. Then, like the Aussie, it was a swift slide: bogeys on 14 and 15, a double bogey on 16 and a bogey on 17 before a fall-padding birdie at the last to finish 3-over.

    Rickie Fowler got off to a bad start – not as bad as Ernie Els' first-hole 9 – with a double-bogey 6. He fought back, though, with three birdies in four holes to get under par. At 1-over on the round, Fowler found the water hazard guarding the green at the par-5 13th, leading to a shoulder-slumping triple bogey. Three holes later, Fowler made double bogey, and that was all she wrote. With 8-over 80, Fowler trails Spieth by 14 shots and has a lot of work to do in expected nasty conditions on Friday afternoon just to play the weekend.


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

    LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Masters preview with a former contestant

  • In less than 12 hours, the Masters starts. After three days of talk, lots of analysis and a Par-3 Contest to exclude the winner from a Sunday date with a green jacket, there's still no clear favorite.

    The primary reason why it's so hard to home in on a pick is because so many top players are in great form.

    The Masters champions dating back to 2011 have all won somewhere in the world this year. Charl Schwartzel has won three times since November, including the Valspar Championship. Bubba Watson won at Riviera, just like he did two years ago before winning a second green jacket. Adam Scott won in back-to-back weeks in the Florida swing. Jordan Spieth won an eight-shot runaway at the Tournament of Champions to start the year.

    Then there's Jason Day, who has assumed No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and was the favorite leading into the week. He won his last two starts in a row. However, there's a problem. In the history of the PGA Tour, a player has won three consecutive starts just 27 times. Since Tiger Woods turned pro in 1996, just it's happened just five times, with Woods doing it twice.

    Rory McIlroy's game is tailored to Augusta National. The Ulsterman hits it high and right-to-left. He's long, so he can demolish the par 5s. This is the major that stands between McIlroy and becoming the sixth-ever golfer to complete the career Grand Slam. But he hasn't closed the deal. And there's the scar tissue of surrendering a four-stroke 54-hole lead in 2011. McIlroy has changed so many facets of his Masters approach in the hopes of finding the right formula.

    How about Phil Mickelson? At 45, Mickelson would become the second-oldest Masters winner ever, 30 years after Jack Nicklaus won the '86 green jacket at 46. Mickelson already has three, so he knows how to do it. If you believe in numerology -- and the Masters is the only major where that's a legitimized part of the analysis -- then you'll note Mickelson won his three prior Masters in even-numbered years (like Bubba Watson! Conflict!). Mickelson is reinvigorated this year, hitting more fairways thanks to work with new swing instructor Andrew Getson. If Lefty can keep the ball in play, he's got as good of a chance as anyone. 

    But what about Rickie Fowler, who won in Abu Dhabi and lost in a playoff in Phoenix? How about Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka or Justin Thomas, all members of the 20-something army looking to join the major-winning company of the supposed modern Big Three?

    Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson have all had more than their fair share of close calls and slip-ups in majors. Any of them could break through this week, in what would be a remarkable story of redemption.

    There are anywhere from 12-15 players who could win and, in golf circles, it wouldn't be a surprising result.

    It also helps that this Masters field is the smallest since 2002. There are only 89 players. Most of the past champions aren't serious contenders. The amateurs are largely happy to be there. There are fewer wild-cards in the form of PGA Tour event winners who have sneaked their way down Magnolia Lane. For the best players, there are fewer possible Rich Beems, Todd Hamiltons and Shaun Micheels.

    However, what keeps this Masters so up in the air is, well, the wind. There's going to be a lot of it during the first three days of the championship. With sustained winds expected to clock in at 20 mph, Augusta National will take on a new character. The par 5s will be largely longer or subject to crosswinds that will make most every player in the field think twice about reaching in two. Several of the long par 4s will play even longer.

    In concept, that should favor the long hitters. In reality, it should neutralize the length advantage. It'll crush the players, like Rory McIlroy, who struggle to control their ball flight and embrace the challenge of the wind. The likely slightly slowed greens will become even trickier and will probably flummox the flatstick-challenged.

    Most weeks, a clear favorable draw emerges. On paper, the weather will guarantee there is none.

    And then there's the nature of the host course itself. On Sunday, the wind is supposed to relent. Combine that with a traditional final-round setup built for birdies, eagles and reverberating roars, and the final day could turn out to be a shootout where anything is possible -- like what happened in 1960, 1975, 1986, 1998, 2004, 2009 and 2011, and so many other years. 

    So, who's the favorite to win the Masters? Us.


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

    LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Masters preview with a former contestant

  • For Sergio Garcia, a win feels the same no matter where it is or who it's against.

    After getting into contention to win The Honda Classic, Garcia dismissed the notion that a win on the PGA Tour –– where he hasn't won since the 2012 Wyndham Championship –– counts any more than a win on the European or Asian tours.

    "There’s something that I don’t like, and when I hear guys say, ‘Oh, yeah, you won in Vietnam, or you won in Qatar (in 2014), but you haven’t won on the PGA Tour,’” Garcia said. “It feels like, you know, those wins don’t mean anything and it’s such a wrong comment."

    Garcia won the Asian Tour's Ho Tram Open in Vietnam in December. He regards that the same as any of his other 27 worldwide wins.

    “Every win, every victory is difficult. It doesn’t matter, even if it’s against your father in your home course. Every single victory is tough,” he added. “The victory in Vietnam wasn’t easy. I had to play well to get that. And the victory in Qatar, same thing.”


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Count Sergio Garcia as the latest European player to become a tournament host on the European Tour. 

    On Wednesday, the European Tour and tournament organizers announced Garcia would host the Spanish Open, which will be played this year from April 14-17, the week after the Masters, at Valderrama. 

    Valderrama, which hosted the 1997 Ryder Cup and the 1999 WGC-American Express Championship, will be host of the Spanish Open for the first time.

    “This is a new whole new way of working together with the European Tour and I am very proud to be a part of it,” Garcia said.

    Celebrity players hosting tournaments in their home country has become a bit of a trend on the European Tour, with Ernie Els (South African Open), Rory McIlroy (Irish Open) and Paul Lawrie (Match Play) assuming that ambassador role. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter have teamed up to serve as a rotation of hosts for the revived British Masters.


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

    LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Bubba Watson put his foot in his mouth in Phoenix

  • Rory McIlroy has four majors wins, but he's never had to stare down Tiger Woods with it all on the line.

    Despite Woods out indefinitely while recovering from a pair of Fall 2015 back surgeries, the current world No. 2 holds out hope for a major showdown with Woods.

    "Hopefully, if he can get healthy, I would still love to have a crack at him down the stretch in a major," McIlroy said Wednesday ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic. "I would love that, just once."

    Woods was a factor, an outside one at that, in just one of McIlroy's four major wins.

    At the 2011 U.S. Open, Woods didn't play at Congressional, and, even if he had, McIlroy probably would have blown him out that week.

    Woods had a share of the 36-hole lead at the 2012 PGA Championship on Kiawah Island in South Carolina, but McIlroy wound up winning by eight. He was 11 clear of Woods.

    The 14-time major winner made the cut at the '14 British Open but finished near dead last among the weekend field while McIlroy took out Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler for the Claret Jug. 

    At that summer's PGA Championship, Woods was a last-minute entrant and missed the cut.

    However, McIlroy knows Woods, 40, has to get back to a regular routine well before he considers coming back to competitive golf. Then McIlroy can worry about holding up his end.

    "At this point it's just up to him to get healthy and get his game back," McIlroy said, "and if I hopefully keep playing the way I'm playing, maybe one day it'll happen."


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Sergio Garcia won his first tournament in two years on Sunday, taking the Asian Tour's inaugural Ho Tram Open in a four-man, sudden-death playoff.

    Garcia finished on 14-under 270 along with Wen-tang Lin, Himmat Rai and Thaworn Wiratchant. The Spaniard made a double bogey on the 71st hole of the tournament, relinquishing a two-shot lead, but a par at the last got him to extra holes. 

    On the first hole of the playoff at The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip, Garcia and Rai made birdies to match, eliminating Thaworn and Lin. A hole later, Rai's tee shot found bushes, while Garcia made a simple par to earn the victory.

    "Winning is never easy. I was fortunate and you have to be lucky to win," said Garcia, who earned his first win since the 2014 Qatar Masters. "I was fortunate to get a second chance after I pretty much gave it away. I'm very happy as I haven't won in a while.

    Thomas Bjorn finished a shot out of the playoff at 13 under par.

    ***

    Marc Leishman won one of two European Tour-sanctioned events on Sunday, taking the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player Country Club in South Africa. 

    The Aussie shot 5-under 67 on Sunday, pulling away from Swede Henrik Stenson, whose even-par 72 left him six shots behind the winner. Leishman's 19-under 269 total earned him $1.28 million. 

    Chris Wood finished alone in third in the 30-man field at 9 under par. 

    For Stenson, this is his sixth worldwide second-place finish in 2015. His season ends without a win, as he goes under the knife next week for a knee procedure.

    As for Leishman, this is a good moment in what has been a very tough year. Leishman's wife, Audrey, nearly died earlier this year in a battle with acute respiratory distress syndrome and toxic shock syndrome. She is recovering now, some eight months later, but Leishman is hoping this win is a sign of a more memorable 2016.

    "I’m pretty happy to have this year over, to be honest," he said. "Audrey got very sick and I lost an uncle who I was very close to. This tops off what was otherwise not a great year."


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Lucas Bjerregaard is finishing the European Tour season with a flurry, taking a three-shot lead into the weekend at the BMW Masters in China.

    The 24-year-old shot a second-consecutive 6-under 66 at Lake Malaren Golf Club to lead over Sergio Garcia and Thongchai Jaidee, tied for second on 9-under 135.

    Garcia was pleased to remain in contention despite conditions turning cold and windy.

    "Still felt like I left at least three or four shots out there," he said. "But it was obviously difficult; if you didn't hit the right shot at the right time, you could pay and I did a couple of times."

    Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and 2015 BMW PGA Championship winner Byeong-Hun An are tied for third place at 8-under total.

    Danny Willett, who is second to idle Race to Dubai leader Rory McIlroy in the standings, trails Bjerregaard by nine shots heading into the weekend. Four other players, including Justin Rose and Branden Grace, could overtake McIlroy for the top spot, depending on their finishes, heading into next week's season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

    However, the story remains Bjerregaard, who finished runner-up to Justin Rose at the Hong Kong Open three weeks ago. In his last seven European Tour starts, Bjerregaard has seven top-10 finishes, a coming out party heading into a Ryder Cup year.

    The Dane is hoping that experience in Hong Kong will give him the confidence to finish the job this time.

    "It was nice in Hong Kong to prove to myself and to everyone else that I can still compete up there," he said. "So hopefully I can do that again this week and just come up one place better than last time."


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • On the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, Jacques Kruyswijk was hit where the sun don't shine.

    Kruyswijk was playing on the eighth hole in the first round of this week's Vodacom Origins of Golf when his ball wound up next to a tree. Trying to pull off the hero shot, a la Sergio Garcia during the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, Kruyswijk hit the ball, which flew up, bounced off the tree in question and struck him in the groin. 

    After taking a second or two for the pain to register, perhaps out of sheer surprise at what happened, Kruyswijk fell to the ground in obvious pain. Adding insult to terrible, terrible injury, Kruyswijk was penalized a shot for the ball hitting him, ultimately leading a triple-bogey 7. 

    All wasn't lost in the 54-hole event, however, as Kruyswijk finished tied for 18th place.


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • There are just a little over 10 months until the two 60-player fields are decided for the 2016 Olympic golf tournaments. However, were the cutoff today, Miguel Angel Jimenez would make the field, representing Spain along with Sergio Garcia. 

    The 51-year-old  would be one of the oldest players in either the men's or women's field. Asked about the potential of an Olympic spot on Wednesday ahead of this week's KLM Open on the European Tour, Jimenez sounded downright giddy about the possibility.

    "Of course I would like to be in the Olympics," he said. "Can you imagine Miguel Angel Jimenez in Rio with a big fat cigar, walking through the middle of the Olympic Village with all of the athletes around? I would love that."

    Well, when he puts it that way, it does sound right up the world No. 61's alley.

    And if Jimenez does make the Olympic field, don't count him out. He is the European Tour's oldest champion, surpassing his own record multiple times.


    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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