Tee times for the 2014 Masters Tournament have been released, and although there is no shortage of star power in this major championship field, there are several marquee groups to watch for in the chase for the green jacket.
Augusta National Golf Club should offer plenty of compelling action through the first 36 holes, with stars such as reigning champion Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and others beginning their quests for glory. Here is an overview of the best groups that galleries and TV broadcasts will flock to in the opening two rounds:
|Tee Time (ET)||Player 1||Player 2||Player 3|
|8:07 a.m.||Ben Crenshaw||Y.E. Yang||Jonas Blixt|
|8:18 a.m.||Mark O'Meara||Steven Bowditch||Jordan Niebrugge|
|8:40 a.m.||Craig Stadler||Scott Stallings||Martin Kaymer|
|8:51 a.m.||Tom Watson||Billy Horschel||Brendon de Jonge|
|9:02 a.m.||Mike Weir||Matt Every||Roberto Castro|
|9:13 a.m.||Angel Cabrera||Gary Woodland||Ian Poulter|
|9:24 a.m.||Fred Couples||Webb Simpson||Chang-woo Lee|
|9:57 a.m.||Zach Johnson||KJ Choi||Steve Stricker|
|10:30 a.m.||Charl Schwartzel||Jim Furyk||Thorbjorn Olesen|
|10:41 a.m.||Adam Scott||Jason Dufner||Matthew Fitzpatrick|
|10:52 a.m.||Jordan Spieth||Patrick Reed||Rory McIlroy|
|11:36 a.m.||Jose Maria Olazabel||Lucas Glover||Garrick Porteous|
|12:09 p.m.||Vijay Singh||Thomas Bjorn||Ryan Moore|
|1:15 p.m.||Bubba Watson||Luke Donald||Sergio Garcia|
|1:48 p.m.||Phil Mickelson||Ernie Els||Justin Rose|
You can view the full list of pairings at Masters.com.
The PGA Tour has had a diverse array of winners during the 2013-14 season. Eight different champions have been crowned in as many events entering the year's first major, and none of them have won more than twice in their respective careers.
Seven different players have seized the top prize at Augusta National in the past seven years, with Mickelson being the only previous winner in that span. After a tie for 12th at last week's Shell Houston Open, perhaps the three-time Masters victor can muster some magic in Georgia.
PGATour.com's Sean Martin brings up an interesting point with regard to Lefty:
This is the first year since 2010 that Phil Mickelson arrives at Masters without a win. 2010 also is the last time Mickelson won at Augusta.— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) April 6, 2014
McIlroy closed the Shell Houston Open with a seven-under 65 and is feeling confident as he seeks to notch the third leg in the career Grand Slam:
Another past green-jacket bearer in Bubba Watson triumphed in 2012, but didn't win again until the 2014 Northern Trust Open. Now that he's back in form, Watson could conceivably be a top challenger this week amid a bounce-back campaign that has him fifth in the FedEx Cup standings.
Many of the players ahead of Watson in points figure to occupy headlines this week. Jimmy Walker leads the FedEx Cup thanks to his three victories this season and is making his Masters debut. The same is the case for Augusta State alum Patrick Reed, who is not short on confidence as a brash 23-year-old.
Another young gun to watch for is Jordan Spieth. At age 20, he has managed to ascend from a player with no status to start 2013 to a Presidents Cup member and a trophy holder at the John Deere Classic. His maiden trip down Magnolia Lane shouldn't soon be forgotten if he gets into contention.
The last time someone won in his first Masters start was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, though, so Augusta National tends to favor the experienced, per Golf Channel's Morning Drive Twitter feed:
Days until the #Masters: 35 – Years since the last first-time participant won the Masters: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.— Morning Drive (@GCMorningDrive) March 6, 2014
Who will win the 2014 Masters Tournament?
Dustin Johnson has played some of the best golf of his career and is poised to win his first major this season. It could come at Augusta, where his booming length and improved short game give him an excellent chance to thrive.
With two top-three finishes in the past three years, Jason Day will seek to overcome a thumb injury to put himself in contention. The Aussie could become the second from his native land in as many years to finish first at Augusta.
Among the players who haven't won a major in their careers, Matt Kuchar seems like the most due for one given his consistency. Kuchar nearly won the past two events he played in, finishing joint fourth and second, respectively, and he has finished tied for third and tied for eighth in his last two Masters starts.
Golf Channel's Ryan Lavner notes how steady Kuchar has been:
Matt Kuchar has 42 top 10s on the PGA Tour since 2010. Absurd.— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) April 5, 2014
That's the mere beginning of analysis on this star-studded field, which promises to foster another memorable Masters Tournament this time around. The atmosphere and pressure can cause even the most talented golfers to crater under final-round pressure. Given the trend of parity and depth in modern golf, this Masters feels particularly wide open with Tiger Woods absent following back surgery.
Although there will be an unmistakable void without Woods marching the fairways, the excitement this championship inspires will still be evident. Anything can happen on the back nine on Sunday, and the opportunity still looms for golf's next potential superstar to step up on the grand stage and seize their own Masters moment for a ubiquitous place in golf lore.