Andy North says that Rory Mcllroy is the man to beat at Augusta National this week. A green jacket would give McIlroy a career grand slam. (3:23)
Tiger Woods‘ long-awaited return to the Masters officially begins at 10:42 ET on Thursday morning, alongside Marc Leishman and Tommy Fleetwood. While Tiger’s being back for competitive golf at Augusta National will capture the attention of many, he is not the only story that makes the opening of the 2018 Masters Tournament so anticipated. Here’s a look at what to keep an eye on for Thursday’s first round.
Yes, Tiger is back. … Just don’t expect big things early
Yes, he’s back. Yes, the oddsmakers have installed him as 12-1, which is behind only Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth at 10-1. But temper expectations. Woods is not a fast starter at Augusta National, shooting in the 60s in the first round just once in 20 Masters appearances. That lone time, in 2010, when he opened with 68, Woods finished tied for fourth. The first round, though, can be an indicator. In his four victories, his scoring average is 71 (three 70s and a 74). In the years he did not walk away with the green jacket, Woods’ scoring average is 72.4.
“I really hope I’m playing my best golf,” Woods said Tuesday. “This is a tournament, I think, that where experience does help a lot. I mean, I have played here, and I’ve won here, not playing my absolute best, but there’s got to be a certain part of my game that’s on. I think that this tournament really helps with having the experience and really understanding how to play.”
Thursday is important, but …
Starting off well is key, but it is not an indicator of who will walk away with the green jacket. Only two players in the past 33 years have won the Masters after holding a share of the first-round lead, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That said, don’t fall too far off the pace. Each of the past 12 champions has been in the top 10 after 18 holes.
When the key players get started
The stat that leads to a green jacket
Looking for a reliable determining factor to figure out who wins? Think it’s putting? Nope. Since 2000, six players have ranked outside of the top 20 for the week and still won. The worst of that bunch was Vijay Singh, who was 45th in 2000. How about finding fairways? Not necessarily. Since 2005, the year Woods last won here, six players have been outside of the top 30 in fairways, including five outside the top 40.
No, it’s about hitting greens. Per ESPN Stats & Information, the past six Masters champions have been in the top six in greens hit. Since 1999, all but three winners have been in the top 10 in greens. Mike Weir (37th in 2003), Angel Cabrera (14th in 2009) and Charl Schwartzel (18th in 2011) were the outliers.
“It’s you kind of want to figure out the angles, you want to figure out where the misses are, because you can obviously get into some big trouble around the greens if you’re in the wrong location. So it’s a lot of homework, and then just committing to that,” said Spieth, the 2015 champion.
What will Phil wear?
Phil Mickelson caused a stir in Tuesday’s practice round — and not just because he teed it up with Woods. His button-down shirt for his round turned some heads.
“I just thought I would give it a try. It’s a stretchy fabric, it performs well and I think it looks good,” Mickelson said.
Not everyone agrees.
Until I hear otherwise, Phil Mickelson lost a bet to wear that shirt today at #themasters
— Matt Barrie (@MattBarrie) April 3, 2018
Any chance it makes a return Thursday?
Trying to avoid the fall
Dustin Johnson was the 2017 favorite heading into the Masters, coming in as the No. 1 player in the word off three consecutive victories at the Genesis Open, World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship and World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. Johnson never made it to the first tee of last year’s Masters after falling on some stairs at his rental house, causing a back injury that forced him to withdraw. The plan for the night before the Masters starts this year?
“I’m going to take it really easy,” Johnson said.
Bubba’s caddie has the secret to winning here
Reluctantly, Ted Scott gave up the info.
— ted scott (@jtedscott) April 2, 2018
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