After much speculation swirling around whether he would even play, golf legend Tiger Woods makes his return to Augusta for the 79th Masters tournament beginning with Thursday’s first round.
Woods, 39, has been stuck at 14 majors with his play tailing off for the better part of five years in part due to injuries. He’s yet to claim another slam since the 2008 U.S. Open, and last left Augusta with a green jacket back in 2005.
The setbacks have plagued Woods and golf, a sport that needs its most recognizable superstar to have a resurgence if it hopes to gain a stronger following from casual fans. The possibility of Woods providing flashes of his top form would significantly bolster attention to golf's premier event.
Woods seems to be taking a different approach this go round. For one, he will participate in Wednesday’s Par 3 contest, a family-friendly event held prior to the tournament that encourages the family and children of players to come out. It’s the type of lighthearted event Woods wouldn’t have come near when he was at his dominate peak.
Woods told reporters his two children will be his caddies during the contest, and that the Masters holds a special place in his memories. Woods claimed his first major in 1997 at Augusta with his late father, Earl, on the final green to cheer him on.
Woods would also allude to how much the tour has changed around him, especially the wave of young players, a group he used to headline.
"Competing is still the same," Woods said. "I'm trying to beat everybody out there. That hasn't changed. I prepare to win and expect to go and do that. The only difference is that I won the Masters when Jordan (Spieth, who is 21) was still in diapers. The difference is that guys are now younger, a whole other generation of kids are coming out."
Those “kids” are led by Northern Ireland’s admitted Woods admirer Rory McIlroy. Both endorsed by apparel conglomerate Nike, McIlroy’s rise from a toddler to golf prodigy was depicted in a recent television ad that also showed how he idolized Woods during his prime.
But now they’re pitted against each other and have been for some time, with McIlroy trying to improve on his eighth place finish in last year’s Masters, his best showing at Augusta so far. Dubbed last season’s Player of the Year, the 25-year-old looks to build off his two major wins from last season.
There’s also defending champion and American Bubba Watson, who has the chance to claim his third Masters in four years, a feat not accomplished since legend Jack Nicklaus did it in 1966.
ESPN will cover the first two rounds of the tournament beginning Thursday afternoon from 3 to 7:30 p.m. ET, and the same hours for the second round on Friday. ESPN’s online feed can be viewed at Watch ESPN.
CBS takes over on the weekend, starting with the third round on Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m., and the championship round on Sunday from 2 to 7 p.m. CBS Sports’ live feed can be watched here.
Fans can also watch live streams on the Masters official site here, with feeds from Amen Corner, the 15th and 16th holes, and a featured group starting at 10:45 a.m. on Thursday.
Highlighted Tee Times
The first pairing features Americans Brian Harman and Charley Hoffman teeing off at 7:45 a.m. Thursday morning.
From there, Watson takes the course with England’s Justin Rose and South Korea’s Gunn Yang at 9:24 a.m., followed by 2013 champion and Australian Adam Scott and fellow countrymen Antonio Murdaca and American Dustin Johnson at 9:35 a.m.
A little over an hour later, three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson tees off with McIlroy and American Ryan Moore at 10:41 a.m.
And Woods starts off the tournament with American Jimmy Walker and Welshman Jamie Donaldson beginning at 1:48 p.m.
The full list of tee times for the first two rounds can be found at the PGA’s official site here.