Liguori: Tiger, Bubba, Rory & Co. Bring Compelling Theater To Masters

By Ann Liguori
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The 79th Masters is set to begin on Thursday with Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus hitting the honorary tee shot Thursday at 7:40 a.m.

Defending champion Bubba Watson will start at 9:24 a.m. and will be on a quest to win his third Masters title in four years.

“It gives me goose bumps every time you come down Magnolia Lane,” said Watson, who hosted the Champions Dinner on Tuesday evening.

In 2014, Watson won by three shots. In 2012, the 36-year-old beat Louis Oosthuizen on the second playoff hole when he hooked his approach shot from out of the pine straw on the right side of the 10th hole, the ball landing on the green. Bubba two-putt for par and a Masters victory.

Adam Scott — the 2013 Masters champ — and Dustin Johnson start at 9:35 a.m. along with amateur Antonio Murdaca of Australia. Distance off the tee is definitely an advantage in order to hit short irons into the greens. Johnson certainly has the length off the tee. But he realizes he’ll need to take his game to the next level to win the Masters.

“I feel really confident,” he said. “But around here, it’s so difficult. Everything’s difficult, whether you’re hitting shots into the greens, chipping and putting, it’s very difficult. You’ve got to control your ball.”

Three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, who’s hoping to complete a career Grand Slam and win his third straight major, and Ryan Moore will start at 10:41 a.m. on Thursday.

“This last year and a half has not been my best. It’s been terrible,” said a laughing Mickelson. But he added that he’s “made a lot of birdies” over the past few weeks “and now that I’m starting to do that, I’ve got to try to eliminate some mistakes and see if I can put it together for a good week.”

McIlroy insists that this Masters doesn’t feel any different than his previous six even though there is history to be made: “I think it’s the anticipation factor, the hype, everything else, it feels the same because it’s always exciting to get here. It’s always a great week … you come here to Augusta National, it’s such an intimidating place the first time that you get here, and felt like I may have shown it a little bit too much respect at times.”

“The biggest thing I’ve learned,” added McIlroy, “is just try and get it out of your head where you are and what it means and just try to execute your shots like you normally do.”

Freddie Couples, playing in his 31st Masters, gets started at 1:26 p.m. He was in contention last year before finishing tied for 20th. The 55-year-old has 11 top-10 finishes at the Masters and many of his fans think he’s still capable of rekindling the magic that led him to his 1992 win at Augusta.

My two favorites to win this week? Jordan Spieth, who finished second here last year and is coming in as hot as can be, tees off at 1:15 p.m. Jason Day, my other pick, has the last tee time of the day at 1:59 p.m. with Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler. Day finished T-2 in 2011 and notched his third PGA Tour win in March.

And all eyes will be on Tiger when he tees it up at 1:48 p.m. Thursday to play in his 20th Masters.

The Masters is always compelling theater — and with Tiger here and with the status of his game still a mystery, this year it should be more exciting than ever.

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