The first round of the 2013 Masters Tournament has arrived, with the two biggest stars in golf entering the year's first major in fine form. That alone should provide no shortage of excitement throughout the week at Augusta National Golf Club.
It is worth noting that 16 of the past 17 major winners have been different players, with Rory McIlroy being the only one to win two in that span.
However, Tiger Woods seems to have reestablished himself atop the game of golf, and has won his past two tournaments. He is the prohibitive favorite, but especially on Day 1, there tend to be several surprise names that occupy the top of the leaderboard.
Here is a complete guide to Thursday's action, including who and what to specifically watch for and when and where to tune in for Masters coverage.
When: Thursday, April 11, at 8 a.m. ET
Where: Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
TV: CBS Sports Network—On The Range from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET
ESPN—broadcast runs from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN 3D—live coverage lasts from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET
Coverage on Masters.com
10:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET: Amen Corner live video
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET: On the Range video coverage
11:45 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET: Hole Nos. 15 and 16 live video
12:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET: Featured Groups 1 and 2 live video coverage
3:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Masters In-Depth live video coverage highlights
Top Storylines in Round 1
The forecast shows a significant chance of thunderstorms from Thursday through Friday morning (h/t AccuWeather.com), which will not only lengthen the course but also potentially create delays.
Winds are also expected to gust up to 17 miles per hour or so. It will be extremely interesting to see how that impacts scoring and the advantage long hitters typically have at Augusta.
Golfers who hit the ball a long way generate a lot of club head speed, but that typically means the launch point and ball flight is higher. In gusty winds, that can be problematic. However, hitting to the greens with shorter clubs in their hands should continue to benefit the power players.
Although this venue provides rather generous landing areas for tee shots for the most part, those who stray from the fair way will encounter significant trouble in damp conditions.
This is especially significant for Tiger Woods, whose last win came in 2005. That year, a rain delay stymied Round 1, when Woods shot a two-over 74. Even with how well he's playing lately, it will be worth paying attention if a similar development occurs.
14-Year-Old Tianlang Guan
The Asia-Pacific Amateur champion is the youngest player ever to compete in The Masters. Guan isn't in high school yet, and he may never have to go at the rate he's developing as a golfer.
Ranked No. 490 in the world amateur rankings (h/t ESPN), not much was expected of the teenager prior to his stunning wire-to-wire victory, which was capped off by a five-foot knee-knocker on the final hole.
The PGA TOUR's official Twitter page logged a playful verbal jab that Woods took to the wunderkind:
PGA TOUR @PGATOUR
Tiger on playing with Guan Tianlang: "He asked me a lot about my swing and my game... I asked him what classes he was taking." #Masters4/9/2013, 5:27:33 PM
Suddenly, Guan is paired with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and 19-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero, who will probably feel underwhelmed by his own career to date standing next to the Chinese phenom.
Okay well maybe not—Manassero has won in each of his first three seasons on the European Tour. That means Guan has some seriously high-profile company to contend with in his group, which tees off at 12:24 p.m.
No matter what happens, and if Guan shoots himself out of the cut line on the first day, it is a staggering achievement that someone of his age is playing in a PGA Tour event. And at that, it is arguably the most important tournament in professional golf.
Inconsistent Starts for Top Contenders?
Phil Mickelson typically plays the week before Augusta, but elected not to do that this time around. As up-and-down as 2013 has been for Lefty, he may not get off to the best of starts.
The three-time green jacket holder has posted four top-fives in his past five Masters, including his thrilling victory in 2010. If he gets off to a bad start, though, it may be too much for him to dig out of.
The 2013 campaign had not been kind to Rory McIlroy until a runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open this past weekend. This is a whole different type of pressure, though.
McIlroy has been stripped of his No. 1 ranking due to Woods' resurgence, and needs a strong showing here to completely dismiss concerns about his game. A good start through two rounds in 2012 didn't yield a pleasing result, as McIlroy faded to a tie for 40th on the weekend.
Having said that, it will still be vital for the 23-year-old to continue building on the momentum he established in San Antonio. If he can continue striking it as he did there and hole a few more putts, he may even find himself atop the leaderboard after the first day.
Predicting A Leader: Nicolas Colsaerts
Bovada lists the Belgian Bomber as a 80-1 long shot, and as Bob Harig of ESPN points out, no one making their debut down Magnolia Lane has won The Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller's triumph in 1979.
Given his long odds and shaky putter, Colsaerts seems like the perfect candidate to vault up the leaderboard as somewhat of a surprise on Thursday.
Only defending champion Bubba Watson—maybe—matches Colsaerts' prowess in terms of distance. The 32-year-old also is a sensational iron player, and should give himself plenty of birdie looks. Colsaerts' game also won't be as affected by the wind or dampened grass, as he has the ability to hit lower shots and pierce the breeze.
As long as his flatstick can get somewhat hot, there is a significant chance that Colsaerts winds up in first place after 18 holes.
His putter may betray him as the tournament progresses, but he's at least had a taste of major contention from last year's U.S. Open.
He also put on a sensational display on the first day of the Ryder Cup as a rookie, notching eight birdies in a four-ball match to beat Steve Stricker and Woods. Those experiences in pressure situation should only help him, even though this is his first Masters rodeo
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