Tiger Woods will have an afternoon tee time alongside South Korean KJ Choi and fellow American Matt Kuchar in Thursday’s opening round of the Masters, officials announced on Tuesday.
Woods, playing competitively for the first time in nearly five months in the wake of a sex scandal, will start in the penultimate of 32 trios off the first tee at famed Augusta National Golf Club at 1:42 pm (1742 GMT).
“It’s a good surprise,” Choi said. “It’s funny. I sort of had a feeling that it would be cool if I was paired with Tiger and it happened.
“I like playing with big crowds. I will probably play more aggressively.”
The same trio will tee off in Friday’s second round at 10:35 in the morning (1435 GMT) with a throng of spectators expected to surround the ropes at every hole for the world number one’s return to competition after his epic fall.
“The whole Woods story is fascinating all around the world,” Kuchar said. “It will be exciting to have him back in the golf arena. It will be great to be on the course with him and I will have a chance to see how he is doing.”
Pairings were made by tournament officials and although several big names such as Phil Mickelson or reigning British Open champion Stewart Cink had volunteered, Augusta National avoided putting them in the high-profile group.
“You remember the rounds you play with Tiger Woods at Augusta National,” Cink said. “They are just memorable and sometimes it’s because one of you plays really well and you’re in the hunt.”
Also avoided was the idea of easing Woods back into play with an all-buddy pairing with such pals as Fred Couples or Mark O’Meara, who played practice rounds this week with a relaxed Woods at Augusta National.
“It’s always a little different playing with Tiger at the Masters than it is anywhere else because the anticipation of his round, the scrutiny, everything is so intense here that is just feels a little different,” Cink said.
“I would expect that whoever plays with him this week that it would be probably similar to other Masters experiences playing with Tiger -- a little bit different but it’s always fun. I love watching him hit shots.”
Cink goes off two groups ahead of Woods with South African Charl Schwartzel and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who calls Augusta National the easiest place to have the never-easy challenge of playing alongside Woods.
“There’s more focus and more stress,” Harrington said. “There are more questions and they are all questions that are getting off the path and add a bit more stress to the week.
“It’s never easy to be paired with Tiger in terms of your whole tournament. Guys may beat him Thursday or Friday but they don’t have as good a weekend because that’s a lot of energy used up Thursday and Friday.”
South African Ernie Els, who won Masters tuneups at Bay Hill and Doral last month, tees off at 10:13 a.m. Thursday alongside Japanese teen star Ryo Ishikawa and American Anthony Kim.
Defending champion Angel Cabrera is in the following group 11 minutes after with American Jim Furyk and South Korean amateur An Byeong-Hun.
Mickelson, seeking a third Masters green jacket, is in the next group with Australian Robert Allenby and South Korean Yang Yong-Eun, who stunned Woods last August to win the PGA Championship, becoming the first Asian man to win a major golf title.
All of them will simply be a warm-up act for Woods’ tee shot, already dubbed the shot to be heard around the world in the wake of his admissions of infidelity and five-month layoff.