AUGUSTA, Ga. — In an amazing and remarkable coincidence, Tiger Woods drew a late tee time for Thursday’s opening day of the Masters, which means ESPN will be able to televise most of Tiger’s round, probably all of his back nine.
It is the second straight year that Woods will tee off in the next-to-last group of the first day. On Thursday, he’ll start at 1:42 p.m. with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar. Last year, he went off with Stewart Cink and Jeev Milkha Singh. (See all tee times.)
ESPN’s live coverage will be from 4-7 p.m. Eastern time, which means Woods should be about at the turn when the telecast comes on.
It is likely that the big crowds certain to follow Woods will have an impact not only on his playing partners, but also on the pairings before and after. Steve Stricker plays at 1:31 with Yuta Ikeda and Ian Poulter, while Adam Scott, David Duval and Ricky Barnes will play in the final pairing at 1:53. Some fans are certain to rush ahead to get a view, which can distract the group in front of Woods, and others will likely move as soon as Woods finishes each shot, which can be distracting to the group behind him.
Stricker, a friend of Woods and his Presidents Cup partner last year, figured to be one of the favorites to play with Woods. It might have helped to smooth over Tiger’s return to golf this week after his tumultuous absence. Stricker, the world’s No. 2-ranked player, said he wasn’t worried about playing in the group just ahead of his friend.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Stricker said. “Each of the greens is loaded with people, anyway. They’re five deep at every green. They have rules here, like no running. If there’s anywhere it wouldn’t make a difference, it’s here.”
Here’s a look at some other notable pairings:
7:40 a.m. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus Yes, the legends will be reunited again for the ceremonial first shot, the first time they have done that together. The big question is, why not have Gary Player, who is in town for the par-3 tournament, join them for a Big Three redux?
8:45 a.m. Mark O’Meara, Rory Sabbatini, Nathan Smith The Mid-Amateur champ, a financial counselor in Pittsburgh, draws a good pairing with a classy pro (O’Meara) and Sabbatini, who plays quickly.
8:56 a.m. Martin Kaymer, Geoff Ogilvy, Luke Donald This is quite an international threesome. Kaymer, who won in Dubai, and Ogilvy, who won the PGA Tour season opener in Hawaii, have to rank high on anyone’s short list of favorites to win this week.
10:24 a.m. Angel Cabrera, Jim Furyk, Ben An Furyk finally made it back to the winner’s circle this year and joins the defending champ, Cabrera, who has had a quiet spring. An, a teenager from Korea, is the U.S. Amateur winner who draws a sparkling pairing.
10:35 a.m. Phil Mickelson, Y.E. Yang, Robert Allenby Mickelson, the game’s biggest marquee name next to Tiger, will likely attract a big following in the morning, especially paired with Yang, the PGA Championship winner and the first Asian player to win a men’s major.
12:36 p.m. Camilo Villegas, Kenny Perry, Rory McIlroy It’s the old and the new as Perry, the sentimental favorite who lost the Masters in a heartbreaking playoff finish last year, will tee off with two of the game’s brightest young stars. Colombia’s Villegas is off to a quick start with his Honda Classic win, and Northern Ireland’s McIlroy may be the most heralded player in the world under the age of 25.
12:58 p.m. Fred Couples, Sergio Garcia, Shingo Katayama Couples has a stellar record and is considered a dark horse contender this year after his early dominance on the senior circuit. Garcia is a popular player and Katayama may be underrated, considering his quiet fourth-place finish a year ago.
1:20 p.m. Charl Schwartzel, Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington This is where the pairings are obviously back-loaded for TV. Schwartzel, a quiet South African, has been one of the hottest players on the European tour. Cink is a Georgia native and the reigning British Open champion. Harrington is a three-time major winner. A pretty good threesome.
1:31 p.m. Yuta Ikeda, Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker Another good draw for TV. There’s someone for the global audience, Japan’s Ikeda, plus the always colorful Poulter, who is considered a serious contender since his World Match Play victory, plus Stricker, No. 2 in the world.
1:42 p.m. Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar, K.J. Choi Any group with Woods is the premier pairing. It’ll be interesting to see how much airtime Kuchar and Choi get.
1:53 p.m. Adam Scott, David Duval, Ricky Barnes Three more familiar names here. Duval had a nice run at last year’s U.S. Open, proving he’s still got some competitive fire. The Aussie Scott has long been popular with fans, and Barnes has a youthful power game that always makes him fun to watch.
ESPN will have a lot of good options to choose from at the end of the first round’s telecast.