Let’s not kid ourselves. Tiger Woods will be playing in his first major since he returned from back surgery, and it’s the flavor for almost everyone’s golf Kool-Aid.
There were players who really solidified themselves in his absence, but the Man has returned. Like it or not, we will pay very close attention to what he does this week at the Open Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in England.
And it shouldn't be any other way. The game is simply not as exciting when he's not playing. Thankfully he's back. Because Woods is now 38 years old, it would behoove fans to enjoy him while he's still playing and/or a legitimate threat to win majors.
Surely you want to know the tee times and pairings for Thursday/Friday’s first-round action.
Thursday/Friday (All Times ET)
- 1:25 a.m.-6:26 a.m. -- David Howell, England; David Duval, United States; Robert Karlsson, Sweden.
- 1:36 a.m.-6:37 a.m. -- Dawie Van Der Walt, South Africa; Cameron Tringale, United States; Masanori Kobayashi, Japan.
- 1:47 a.m.-6:48 a.m. -- Chris Wood, England; Matt Jones, Australia; Bernd Wiesberger, Austria.
- 1:58 a.m.-6:59 a.m. -- Erik Compton, United States; Kim Hyung-Sung, South Korea; Marc Leishman, Australia.
- 2:09 a.m.-7:10 p.m. -- Koumei Oda, Japan; Ben Martin, United States; Anirban Lahiri, India.
- 2:20 a.m.-7:21 a.m. -- Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Thailand; Brooks Koepka, United States; Edoardo Molinari, Italy.
- 2:31 a.m.-7:32 a.m. -- Branden Grace, South Africa; Freddie Jacobson, Sweden; a-Ashley Chesters, England.
- 2:42 a.m.-7:43 a.m. -- Justin Leonard, United States; Ben Curtis, United States; Paul Lawrie, Scotland.
- 2:53 a.m.-7:54 a.m. -- Francesco Molinari, Italy; Ryan Moore, United States; Thorbjorn Olesen, Denmark.
- 3:04 a.m.-8:05 a.m. -- Matteo Manassero, Italy; a-Bradley Neil, Scotland; Mikko Ilonen, Finland.
- 3:15 a.m.-8:16 a.m. -- Thomas Bjorn, Denmark; Patrick Reed, United States; Stewart Cink, United States.
- 3:26 a.m.-8:27 a.m. -- Tom Watson, United States; Jim Furyk, United States; Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland.
- 3:37 a.m.-8:38 a.m. -- Luke Donald, England; Rickie Fowler, United States; Sergio Garcia, Spain.
- 3:53 a.m.-8:54 a.m. -- Harris English, United States; Paul Casey, England; Matt Every, United States.
- 4:04 a.m.-9:05 a.m. -- Tiger Woods, United States; Angel Cabrera, Argentina; Henrik Stenson, Sweden.
- 4:15 a.m.-9:16 a.m. -- Charl Schwartzel, South Africa; Padraig Harrington, Ireland; K.J. Choi, South Korea.
- 4:26 a.m.-9:27 a.m. -- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Jordan Spieth, United States.
- 4:37 a.m.-9:38 a.m. -- Ian Poulter, England; Dustin Johnson, United States; Jimmy Walker, United States.
- 4:48 a.m.-9:49 a.m. -- Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland; Matt Kuchar, United States; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa.
- 4:59 a.m-10 a.m. -- Stephen Gallacher, Scotland; Hunter Mahan, United States; Victor Dubuisson, France.
- 5:10 a.m.-10:11 a.m. -- Nick Faldo, England; Todd Hamilton, United States; David Hearn, Canada.
- 5:21 a.m.-10:22 a.m. -- Ryan Palmer, United States; Brett Rumford, Australia; Tomohiro Kondo, Japan.
- 5:32 a.m.-10:33 a.m. -- John Singleton, England; Peter Uihlein, United States; Marc Warren, Scotland.
- 5:43 a.m.-10:44 a.m. -- Paul McKechnie, Scotland; Kristoffer Broberg, Sweden; Juvic Pagunsan, Philippines.
- 5:54 a.m.-10:55 a.m. -- Rhein Gibson, Australia; Brian Harman, United States; Kim Hyung-Tae, South Korea.
- 6:05 a.m.-11:06 a.m. -- Christopher Hanson, England; Oscar Floren, Sweden; Yoshinobu Tsukada, Japan.
- 6:26 a.m.-1:25 a.m. -- James McLeary, Scotland; Matthew Southgate, England; Hiroshi Iwata, Japan.
- 6:37 a.m.-1:36 a.m. -- Roberto Castro, United States; Victor Riu, France; Tyrrell Hatton, England.
- 6:48 a.m.-1:47 a.m. -- Jang Dong-kyu, South Korea, Nick Watney, United States; Shawn Stefani, United States.
- 6:59 a.m.-1:58 a.m. -- D.A. Points, United States; Y.E. Yang, South Korea; Brendan Steele, United States.
- 7:10 a.m.-2:09 a.m. -- Scott Stallings, United States; Pablo Larrazabal, Spain; Bryden Macpherson, Australia.
- 7:21 a.m.-2:20 a.m. -- George Coetzee, South Africa; Charley Hoffman, United States; Michael Hoey, Northern Ireland.
- 7:32 a.m.-2:31 a.m. -- Kevin Streelman, United States; Brendon de Jonge, Zimbabwe; Brendon Todd, United States.
- 7:43 a.m.-2:42 a.m. -- Gary Woodland, United States; Sandy Lyle, Scotland; Kevin Stadler, United States.
- 7:54 a.m.-2:53 a.m. -- Brandt Snedeker, United States; Graham DeLaet, Canada; a-Pan Cheng-Tsung, Taiwan.
- 8:05 a.m.-3:04 a.m. -- Boo Weekley, United States; Danny Willett, England; Ashun Wu, China.
- 8:16 a.m.-3:15 a.m. -- J.B. Holmes, United States; Jonas Blixt, Sweden; Chris Kirk, United States.
- 8:27 a.m.-3:26 a.m. -- Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spain; Bill Haas, United States; Thongchai Jaidee, Thailand.
- 8:38 a.m.-3:37 a.m. -- Martin Kaymer, Germany; Jason Day, Australia; Zach Johnson, United States.
- 8:54 a.m.-3:53 a.m. -- Webb Simpson, United States; Jamie Donaldson, Wales; Yusaku Miyazato, Japan.
- 9:05 a.m.-4:04 a.m. -- Phil Mickelson, United States; Ernie Els, South Africa; Bubba Watson, United States.
- 9:16 a.m.-4:15 a.m. -- Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Spain; Russell Henley, United States; Billy Horschel, United States.
- 9:27 a.m.-4:26 a.m. -- Adam Scott, Australia; Justin Rose, England; Jason Dufner, United States.
- 9:38 a.m.-4:37 a.m. -- Ryo Ishikawa, Japan; Lee Westwood, England; Keegan Bradley, United States.
- 9:49 a.m.-4:48 a.m. -- Kevin Na, United States; Joost Luiten, Netherlands; John Senden, Australia.
- 10 a.m.-4:59 a.m. -- John Daly, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Ross Fisher, England.
- 10:11 a.m.-5:10 a.m. -- Mark Wiebe, United States; Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Spain; a-Paul Dunne, Ireland.
- 10:22 a.m.-5:21 a.m. -- Oliver Fisher, England; Chesson Hadley, United States; Shane Lowry, Ireland.
- 10:33 a.m.-5:32 a.m. -- George McNeill, United States; Richard Sterne, South Africa; Chris Stroud, United States.
- 10:44 a.m.-5:43 a.m. -- Gregory Bourdy, France; Jin Jeong, South Korea; Matthew Baldwin, England.
- 10:55 a.m.-5:54 a.m. -- Justin Walters, South Africa; Rhys Enoch, Wales; Billy Hurley III, United States.
- 11:06 a.m.-6:05 a.m. -- Christopher Rodgers, England; Scott Jamieson, Scotland; An Byeong-Hun, South Korea.
Phenomenal Groups to Watch That Don’t Include Tiger
Obviously Woods’ group that also includes Angel Cabrera and Henrik Stenson will be front and center on Thursday. But there are at least five other groupings that should make fans excited as well.
The subsections will include a predicted first-round score for each player highlighted.
Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth’s group is young and promising. The average age of the three is 22.3, and believe it or not, the 25-year-old McIlroy is the elder statesman.
This could not only be a competitive bunch, but a glimpse into the future superstars of the sport.
Kaymer, Day and Johnson
Though together, their names sound like a high-priced law firm, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day and Zach Johnson belong to a group of contenders that most know are fully capable of winning the tournament, but for whatever reason, their names may not be on the tips of tongues when discussing favorites.
Kaymer has already proven he has what it takes to come up big when he needs to.
He has won The Players Championship and the U.S. Open this year. Needless to say, he should't be taken lightly.
The Decorated Trio
Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Bubba Watson have won a combined 11 major championships. Mickelson is the defending Open Champion and Els won it in 2012. Were it not for Woods’ 14 majors, this group would have the most major hardware of any threesome in the field.
There’s some definite appeal to a group that includes so many proven winners and the champions from the last two years.
Last Year’s Major Winners
The winners of three of the four major championships in 2013 are put together in the group of Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner. Scott is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, and by his own admission, playing the best he ever has.
While he is playing well, he has to exorcise the demons he’s accumulated during previous versions of The Open Championship. The last two years, Scott has squandered leads on the final day of the tournament. If he is in contention again this year, some portion the narrative of the tournament will shift to whether he’ll choke again in England.
Prediction: Tiger, Tiger, Tiger
As the comical Twitter account Peyton’s Head points out, ESPN 3 is devoting an entire feed to Woods' play at The Open Championship.
While the Twitter personality may not think Tiger will win—or even make the cut—others have more faith. Woods is not the guy he used to be, but that simply puts him in a category with every other really good player in the field. Coming into tournaments, all of the elite players have a shot. Sometimes it’s their time to shine.
The 2014 Open Championship will be just that for Woods.
Was he rusty at The Congressional? Perhaps, but as Jeff Rude of Golf Week found out when he spoke to Woods’ coach Sean Foley, rust doesn’t diminish talent and ability.
Woods is still supremely gifted, driven and motivated. All three will align at Royal Liverpool. Look for him to get off to a solid start in the first round. My prediction is a one-under par outing on Thursday.
He'll use the solid start to build his confidence on his way to winning his 15th major championship.