COMMENTARY | Tee times have been announced for Thursday's start to the most eagerly anticipated Masters in years.
Tiger Woods is in his best form since coming back from scandal and injury and is a heavy favorite to capture a fifth green jacket. (You can read more about Tiger in my scouting report from last week.) But plenty of contenders could stand in the way of history at Augusta National, including Rory McIlroy, who is showing hints of form; three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson; and defending champ Bubba Watson.
Here are the notable pairings to watch over the first two rounds at Augusta. ESPN will cover the opening rounds live from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. EDT. You can also follow the action online via Masters Live.
(Tee times listed are for Thursday/Friday, all times EDT)
9:06 a.m./12:13 p.m. Mike Weir, Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk
Westwood has come closer at Augusta than any other major and has revamped his schedule around the event. Furyk is coming off a third-place finish last week in Texas and brings in a hot putter.
9:17 a.m./12:24 p.m. Brandt Snedeker, Ryo Ishikawa, Justin Rose
Rose finished two back of Tiger at Bay Hill and is riding a streak of strong play. He's played well in recent Masters and is considered one of the favorites. A rib injury cooled off Snedeker's sizzling start to 2013 but with his putter, anything's possible.
10:34 a.m./1:30 p.m. Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Steven Fox (a)
Watson, the popular defending champion, will go toe-to-toe with the prickly Poulter. I think it's a good pairing that will have both grinding for birdies.
10:45 a.m./1:41 p.m. Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Scott Piercy
I like Donald as a foil to Woods but Masters rookie Piercy could be a distraction, especially if he struggles. Regardless, I expect Tiger to be precise and cautious on Thursday as he road-tests an improved putting stroke on Augusta's glassy greens.
I really like Scott's chances at redemption following his Open Championship collapse. His putting in Round 1 will be telling. Sergio is a big question mark after climbing a tree at Bay Hill and injuring his shoulder. Would be thrilled to see 2009 winner "El Pato" contend, but it's not likely.
1:08 p.m./9:50 a.m. Fred Couples, Dustin Johnson, Branden Grace
This is a perfect pairing for DJ to learn how to play Augusta by watching Couples, who has the lowest scoring average among players with more than 100 rounds. Johnson has too much power not to contend here. Upstart South Africans like Grace have surprised here.
1:30 p.m./10:23 a.m. Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer
Oosty and Lefty, last year's second- and third-place finishers, are both in search of their 2012 form. Oosthuizen has some unfinished business here after losing in a playoff to Watson, and I'd be surprised not to see Phil in the mix as well.
1:41 p.m./10:34 a.m. Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Fredrik Jacobson
Pre-equipment change, McIlroy was the odds on favorite to silence his Augusta demons. His play in Texas was encouraging, but he's still a work in progress. Bradley is streaking, but I don't see him doing much on these greens with the long putter.
1:52 p.m./10:45 a.m. Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, Bill Haas
Try not to fall asleep watching these guys. Boring could be beautiful, especially for fan-favorite Kuchar.
9:39 a.m./12:46 p.m. Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson, Peter Hanson
This pairing includes in order of predicted finish: 2011 winner Schwartzel, 2012 third-place finisher Hanson and defending U.S. Open champion Simpson.
9:50 a.m./12:57 p.m. Zach Johnson, K.J. Choi, Graeme McDowell
Besides winning in 2007, Johnson's been a non-factor here. Choi has a pair of top 10s, while G-Mac tends to man up for the majors.
10:56 a.m./1:52 p.m. Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Padraig Harrington
The kids are all right in this threesome with Day seeking the form that led to a runner-up finish in 2011, while Fowler looks to get into contention for the first time.
12:13 p.m./8:55 a.m. Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney
Ernie is back after missing last year's tournament. He's made it apparent that the Masters is the major he most covets, but will the short game cooperate? Stricker and Watney both have the talent to make a surprise run up the leaderboard.
12:24 p.m./9:06 a.m. Ben Crenshaw, Matteo Manassero, Tianlang Guan (a)
Crenshaw, a two-time champion, plays grandfather in this grouping to the 14-year-old Guan and the 19-year-old Manassero. We'll see what Guan, the youngest ever to play the Masters, learned from practice rounds with Crenshaw and Woods.
Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for the New York Post, FoxSports.com, Greensboro News & Record, and Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. He is a past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.
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- Tiger Woods
- Bubba Watson
- Rory McIlroy