It’s been five years since Tiger Woods last won a major championship, and eight years since his last victory at Augusta.
Trying to signal to the world that he’s returned to the form that made him one of the most recognizable and admired figures in all of sports, Woods begins the run for his 15th major title Thursday morning in the first round of The 2013 Masters.
In the tournament's 77th year Woods will have to fend off defending champion Bubba Watson, and some familiar foes. The 37-year-old No. 1 ranked player is in the 15th group, along with Britain’s Luke Donald, and American Scott Piercy, and tees-off at 10:45 a.m.
Watson began his day at 8:44 a.m. paired with Americans Ryan Moore and Kevin Streelman.
Woods leads the tour in wins with three this year, and is tops on the money list, thanks in large part to his rejuvenated short game. He is second in putting average, and just behind him is long-time rival Phil Mickelson.
The 42-year-old is on pace for another typical year, one tournament on fire the next a missed cut. Mickelson came unhinged at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with two triple bogeys and one double bogey, but followed up with a solid 10-under par for 16th place at the Shell Houston Open a week later.
Rory McIlroy, the young player expected to pick up where Woods left off, tuned up for the event with a second place showing at the Valero Texas Open last week. McIlroy made waves back in February for walking off the course in the middle of his second round at the Honda Classic, an odd incident he later attributed to severe wisdom tooth pain. The reigning PGA Player of the Year will try to top his 15th place showing in 2011 at Augusta.
Woods is the odds on favorite at 3-to-1, while Mickelson comes in at 11-to-1 and McIlroy is 12-to-1.
Another favorite is fifth ranked American Brandt Snedeker, who has four top 10 finishes, but has missed two consecutive cuts at Bay Hill and Redstone. He’ll start his first round with No. 2 Justin Rose and Ryo Ishikawa at 9:17 a.m.
Play started at 8 a.m. and a free live online stream is available at CBSSports.com beginning at 10:20 a.m. from Amen Corner.
ESPN will provide TV coverage for the first two rounds from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday. The network will also have its own live online stream at Watch ESPN here, where you can submit your cable provider information to watch.
The full leaderboard can be viewed at the official Masters site here.
Prediction: The question so far has been: Tiger or the field? Woods is the favorite because of his stellar play to start the season, and he should be near the top of the leaderboard for most of the tournament. Still, most players elevate their game at Augusta. Look for Woods, Snedeker, and McIlroy to battle in the end, but overall take the field.