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Page last updated at 19:42 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 20:42 UK

Tiger Woods comeback dominates Masters build-up

Venue: Augusta National Date: 8-11 April
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, High Definition, Red Button and BBC Sport website (UK only); listen on BBC Radio 5 live and online (UK only); text commentary online and on mobile phones

BBC Sport's Masters preview

By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport at Augusta

The 74th Masters gets under way at Augusta National on Thursday after a build-up dominated by the return to golf of world number one Tiger Woods.

The four-time Masters winner is playing his first tournament since a four-month break following the disclosure of a string of extra-marital affairs.

Despite his absence, the 14-time major champion is still the favourite.

Fellow American Phil Mickelson, the 2004 and 2006 Masters champion, is regarded as the main danger to Woods.

South Africa's Ernie Els, a two-time runner-up, is another player widely tipped to clinch a first Masters Green Jacket following two straight wins on the US PGA Tour this season.

Three Englishmen - Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter - go into the tournament ranked in the world's top 10, and hopes are high for a first British winner since Nick Faldo in 1996.

A field of 96 will contest the year's first major, with Argentine Angel Cabrera defending the title he won in a play-off from Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell 12 months ago.

Tiger Woods
Woods has cut a relaxed figure so far this week at Augusta

Woods has been grouped with countryman Matt Kuchar and South Korea's KJ Choi in the first two rounds and will tee off in the penultimate group at 1342 (1842 BST) on Thursday.

The 34-year-old American faced the media on Monday for the first time since his affairs became public, admitting that he was "blown away" by the positive reception he received from fans, and pledged to rebuild his image.

Augusta chairman Billy Payne said on the eve of the tournament: "We at Augusta hope and pray that our great champion will begin his new life here on Thursday in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner.

"He disappointed all of us. Our hero did not live up to his expectations of the role model we saw for our children."

Mickelson believes Woods will be a contender despite his lay-off, citing the 2008 US Open which Woods won after a two-month break and with a serious knee injury that required a further nine months off for surgery.

"I don't think anybody out here will question his ability to perform at the highest level. From a players' point of view, we expect to see the same player that we have always seen," said Mickelson.

But Faldo, a three-time Masters champion, says Woods could struggle to make the cut.


"Tiger loves his comfort zones and for the first time in his life he is walking onto a golf course and it's a totally different environment," Faldo told BBC Sport. "He has no idea how he will be received, how people will react and how he will feel. That's just the emotional side.

"On the technical side, to come and play this tournament is a brutal test right now. This golf course is really difficult.

"You can imagine, after five months off he hasn't hit a competitive shot, hasn't hit a competitive putt, hasn't read a green for five months. It's not like walking around a putting green.

"On paper he should miss the cut. Thursday is probably one of the biggest days of his career."

World number three Mickelson, who alongside Woods lit up the final day last year with a blistering front-nine 30 to challenge the leaders before fading to finish fifth, has suffered an emotionally fraught year after his wife Amy and his mother were both diagnosed with breast cancer.

The 39-year-old is a firm favourite of American crowds but comes into the event without a victory to his name this year.

Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington is looking for his fourth win in a major tournament

"I would have liked to have been in contention but I have performed well here in the past when I've had a poor performance the week before. I missed the cut the week before the Masters last year and I missed the cut in 2003 when I finished third," said the American.

Westwood, the world number four, leads the British charge but has had mixed results at Augusta, with a best finish of tied sixth in 1999.

Casey, ranked sixth, has been in impressive form in America this season after a long spell out with a rib injury last year. He tied for sixth on his Masters debut in 2004 but pulled out of last week's Houston Open with a shoulder injury.

Westwood will play with 2003 champion Mike Weir and Italian amateur Matteo Manassero at 0940 (1440 BST), while Casey (off at 1002) will partner Campbell and Italy's Francesco Molinari, whose brother Edoardo is also in the field.

Poulter goes into the tournament brimming with confidence after victory in the World Match Play event, beating Casey in the final in Arizona earlier this year.

The world number seven tees off in the group before Woods at 1331 (1831 BST) with American Steve Stricker, ranked second in the world, and Japan's Yuta Ikeda.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy is another Briton expected to produce a good performance after finishing tied 20th on his debut last year. The 20-year-old has been struggling with a back injury, though, and has struggled in recent months.

Another player receiving backing in the build up is 50-year-old Fred Couples, the 1992 champion. The American has won three times on the seniors' Champions Tour this season and holds the record, with Gary Player, of 23 consecutive cuts made at the Masters.

Six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, 70, and four-time winner Arnold Palmer, 80, will hit the ceremonial opening drives at 0740 (1240 BST) on Thursday.

The first group of Nathan Green, Heath Slocum and Louis Oosthuizen will get the tournament under way proper at 0750.

Watch Woods tee off in the Masters live on the BBC website and the red button

Masters tee times (US unless stated, all times BST, x = amateur):

1240 Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus (honorary starters)
1250 and 1557 Nathan Green (Aus), Heath Slocum, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa)
1301 and 1608 Craig Stadler, John Merrick, Jerry Kelly
1312 and 1619 Ian Woosnam (Gbr), Brian Gay, Marc Leishman (Aus)1323 and 1630 Bernhard Langer (Ger), Scott Verplank, (x) Brad Benjamin
1334 and 1641 John Senden (Aus), David Toms, Graeme McDowell (Gbr)
1345 and 1652 Mark O'Meara, Rory Sabbatini (Rsa), (x) Nathan Smith
1356 and 1714 Martin Kaymer (Ger), Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Luke Donald (Gbr)
1407 and 1725 Tom Watson, Tim Clark (Rsa), Steve Marino
1418 and 1736 Bill Haas, Todd Hamilton, Anders Hansen (Den)
1429 and 1747 Dustin Johnson, Oliver Wilson (Gbr), Alvaro Quiros (Spa)
1440 and 1758 Mike Weir (Can), Lee Westwood (Gbr), (x) Matteo Manassero (Ita)
1502 and 1809 Chad Campbell, Francesco Molinari (Ita), Paul Casey (Gbr)
1513 and 1820 Ernie Els (Rsa), Anthony Kim, Ryo Ishikawa (Jpn)
1524 and 1831 Angel Cabrera (Arg), Jim Furyk, (x) Byeong-hun An (Kor)
1535 and 1842 Phil Mickelson, Robert Allenby (Aus), Yong-eun Yang (Kor)
1546 and 1853 Retief Goosen (Rsa), Hunter Mahan, Robert Karlsson (Swe)
1557 and 1250 Ben Crane, Simon Dyson (Gbr), Michael Campbell (Nzl)
1608 and 1301 Larry Mize, Ryan Palmer, Chris Wood (Gbr)
1619 and 1312 Sandy Lyle (Gbr), Justin Leonard, Kevin Na
1630 and 1323 Ben Crenshaw, Steve Flesch, (x) Ben Martin
1641 and 1334 Ryan Moore, Ross Fisher (Gbr), Nick Watney
1652 and 1345 Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Soren Hansen (Den), John Rollins
1714 and 1356 Vijay Singh (Fij), Jason Dufner, Sean O'Hair
1725 and 1407 Thongchai Jaidee (Thai), Ben Curtis, Soren Kjeldsen (Den)
1736 and 1418 Camilo Villegas (Col), Kenny Perry, Rory McIlroy (Gbr)
1747 and 1429 Zach Johnson, Henrik Stenson (Swe), (x) Chang-won Han (Kor)
1758 and 1440 Fred Couples, Sergio Garcia (Spa), Shingo Katayama (Jpn)
1809 and 1502 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa), Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Lucas Glover
1820 and 1513 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington (Ire)
1831 and 1524 Yuta Ikeda (Jpn), Ian Poulter (Gbr), Steve Stricker
1842 and 1535 Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar, KJ Choi (Kor)
1853 and 1546 Adam Scott (Aus), David Duval, Ricky Barnes

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see also
Masters tee times
11 Apr 10 |  Golf
Woods 'failed to be a role model'
08 Apr 10 |  Golf
All eyes on Augusta
07 Apr 10 |  Golf
Mickelson expects Woods challenge
07 Apr 10 |  Golf
Ex-Masters champion Floyd retires
06 Apr 10 |  Golf
'Hurt' Woods targets Masters win
05 Apr 10 |  Golf
Photos of Tiger Woods at Augusta
04 Apr 10 |  Golf
England due for major win - Casey
06 Apr 10 |  Golf
Faldo thinks Woods will struggle
05 Apr 10 |  Golf
Fans happy as Woods makes return
06 Apr 10 |  Golf
Woods to make comeback at Masters
16 Mar 10 |  Golf
Repentant Woods sorry for affairs
19 Feb 10 |  Golf
Tiger Woods takes break from golf
12 Dec 09 |  Americas
Guide to Augusta National
27 Mar 11 |  Golf
Golf on the BBC
01 Jul 11 |  Golf

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