AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Tiger Woods was paired with Australian Marc Leishman and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood on Tuesday for the opening round of the U.S. Masters, the year’s first major.
While Fleetwood and Leishman have been thrust into the spotlight and will be followed by massive galleries on Thursday, they will be the invisible men alongside Woods who will make his first start in three years at Augusta National.
Woods is back in Green Jacket contention after a string of injuries and surgeries and, with a 10:42 tee time, the Augusta marshals will be put to the test with huge crowds lining the first hole to catch a glimpse of the four-time Masters champion.
The buzz is unlikely to affect his playing partners, though, with Leishman having played in the final pairing with winner and compatriot Adam Scott at the 2013 Masters while Fleetwood was in contention at last year’s U.S. Open, finishing tied for fourth.
While Leishman was excited about the prospect of sharing the stage with Woods, his six-year-old son Harvey was not nearly as impressed.
“My son’s only just learnt about him (Woods),” explained Leishman. “‘How many trophies has he won daddy?’ 79. ‘How many have you won?’ 3. ‘Oh, OK.’
“Anytime you get a pairing like that I guess it’s a compliment. It’s the biggest stage.
“Yeah, I’m excited about it.”
Following Woods’ group out will be a threesome featuring reigning champion Sergio Garcia, another hot favourite in American world number two Justin Thomas, winner of the last major, the PGA Championship, and amateur Doc Redman.
Twice Masters champion Bubba Watson, who arrives in Augusta in top form after winning the WGC Match Play Championship, is part of a marquee group of major champions that includes Swede Henrik Stenson, the 2016 British Open champion, and Australian Jason Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner.
Among the late starters is a high profile trio featuring 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia, four time major winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and big-hitting Spaniard Jon Rahm.
Phil Mickelson, winner of five majors, including three Green Jackets, will be partnered with two players looking to make a major breakthrough in fellow Americans Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar.
Two players among the last group of the day could make an impact on the leaderboard, with Briton Justin Rose, runner-up for the Green Jacket twice in the last three years, and American world number one Dustin Johnson, eager to claim another major.
Additional reporting by Andrew Both. Editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis