Tiger Woods to return to Malaysia in CIMB Classic

Malaysia is set to grab the golfing headlines in October – thanks to the rebranding of the CIMB Classic.

The future of the CIMB Classic looks as good as it could ever be.

DATUK Seri Nazir Razak spoke for just 10 minutes and the function was over in less than 30 minutes, not withstanding this, the quick-do was probably the most significant event for Malaysia, or even the region, in terms of golf, in the past few decades.

In the least, not since the joint-sanctioning of the Malaysian Open by the European and Asian Tours have we witnessed such an important change to the local golf landscape.

No, we’re not talking only about Tiger Woods coming in October for the CIMB Classic, but rather that in 2013 the tournament will become a full-fledged US PGA Tour event, whose winnings will count towards the money list and also carry all-important FedEx Cup points.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak told the function that it has always been his dream to one day see a full-fledged PGA Tour event staged in Malaysia and added that he was grateful to CIMB for making it possible.

The CIMB Classic, as it is now known, will definitely consolidate Malaysia’s standing in global golf and bring the country’s courses into greater focus for the millions of golf tourists around the world.

The prize money in 2013 will be increased to US$7mil (RM21.8mil) and make the CIMB Classic among the richest in the world. At the moment, the tournament with the biggest prize purse in the world is the Players Championship with US$9.5mil.

This is followed by the two WGC (World Golf Championship) events – the Cadillac and the Bridgestone – at US$8.5mil apiece. The four majors (the Masters, US Open, the Open and PGA Championship) and the three FedEx Cup play-off events (The Barclays, Deutche Bank, BMW and Tour Championship) pay out US$8mil each.

There are no PGA Tour events that have prize money of more than US$7mil. Even the WGC-HSBC at Guangzhou’s Mission Hills has an equivalent purse of US$7mil.

The CIMB Classic, a no-cut event, will have 60 PGA Tour players taking part from next year.

By design, the CIMB will precede the WGC-HSBC, event thus offering two hefty paydays for the PGA professionals at the start of the new season format of the US Tour.

Todd Rhinehart, the PGA Tour’s executive director of the CIMB Classic, revealed that the new format would see the golf season start in the fall from next year.

Rhinehart has been brought in specially to run the CIMB Classic – his last job was to organise the season-ending Tour Championship – which decides the FedEx Cup winner.

Another big change to this tournament, besides the name change (it was previously the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic) is that the bank is now dealing with the PGA Tour directly on the event.

As for Tiger’s appearance from Oct 24, it could not have come at a better time.

His last appearance in Malaysia was also at the Mines Resort & Golf Club for the 1999 World Cup.

His return visit and the rebranding of the CIMB Classic comes as we Malaysians have gotten used to the top European names coming to our shores. This year’s event should stir quite a bit of interest.

Between now and October, look out for the various ways and contests to win tickets to watch Tiger and the other PGA Tour players at the Mines.

A point to note, Nazir in his closing remarks jokingly told the audience including, the Prime Minister that he hoped there would not be “any major sporting or political event” during the Oct 24-28 week.

In his reply, Najib said he was looking forward to playing with Tiger in the Pro-Am – provided there was no important events on.

In 1999, when Tiger partnered Mark O’Meara to win the World Cup – it was right in the middle of the campaign period of the GE10.

Let’s hope this time we can watch the CIMB Classic without distraction.

Caddy Master By WONG SAI WAN

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Masters 2012: Watson’s talent is rewarded with first golf major

• Watson hits astonishing shot to leave two putts for win
Louis Oosthuizen bogeys second play-off hole

Bubba Watson sports the Green Jacket after winning the Masters at Augusta

The American Bubba Watson sports the Green Jacket after winning the Masters at Augusta, his first major championship. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Bubba Watson of the U.S. celebrates after winning the Masters during a playoff in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2012. REUTERS-Phil Noble
Bubba Watson of the U.S. hits his approach shot to the 10th green during a playoff in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2012. REUTERS-Mark Blinch
Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa reacts to missing a birdie putt on the 10th green during a playoff in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2012. Bubba Watson of the U.S. defeated Oosthuizen in the playoff to become the Masters champion. REUTERS-Phil Noble
Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa reacts to missing a birdie putt on the 18th hole, his final in regulation, in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2012. Oosthuizen lost a playoff to Bubba Watson on the second hole. REUTERS-Brian Snyder
Bubba Watson of the U.S. (R) hugs his mother Mollie after winning the the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2012. REUTERS-Mike Segar
Bubba Watson of the U.S. (L) hugs his caddie Ted Scott (C) next to Louis Oosthuizen (R) of South Africa after winning the Masters during a playoff in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2012. REUTERS-Mike Segar
Tiger Woods of the U.S. hits his approach shot to the first green during final round play in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2012. REUTERS-Mark Blinch

Just another Masters Sunday, a day of madness and despair, of great shots and shockers, a day when a couple of Englishmen made the flag of St George proud and the sweet-swinging Louis Oosthuizen made a valiant stand.

But in the end it was a day for the homemade swing and other-worldly talent of Bubba Watson.

Brilliant and wild in equal parts, the American finally gave in to his better instincts, hitting an astonishing shot from trees to the right of the 10th fairway — the second hole of a play-off — that won him his first major championship. His ball finished 10 feet from the flag, leaving him with two putts for the win after Oosthuizen had bogeyed. He took both and immediately burst into tears.

It would be wrong to say his triumph was a long time coming but it would be true to say one of the most extraordinary natural talents in the game has finally been rewarded.

The South African and the American were paired together throughout a classic day at Augusta National, slugging it out like a pair of well-dressed welterweights. Oosthuizen landed the heaviest blow in regulation play, a history-making approach on the par-five 2nd hole that went into the hole for an albatross two. But Watson declined the invitation to fade away, gradually chipping away at Oosthuizen’s day-long lead until they walked off the 18th green tied on 10 under par, with only Sweden’s Peter Hanson, the overnight leader, and Phil Mickelson following.

Behind them, a crammed leaderboard told a story that disappointed no one, not even those who came to Georgia this week expecting a battle between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Both finished well down the pack. Big deal.

The fun started early when Bo Van Pelt and Adam Scott, both of whom were well down the field when they made a hole-in-one at the par-three 16th. They will earn a piece of crystal for their efforts but were clear runners-up in the unofficial shot-of-the-day competition.

That was a walk-over for Oosthuizen, who moments later stood at the top of the hill on the second fairway looking down at the distant target, no doubt thinking the middle of the green would be good. It would have been. But the middle of the hole was better. In the ball went, all the way from 260 yards, from the left side of the green across the slope and down.

Only three players have ever made an albatross at the Masters before. The South African became the fourth. Better still he vaulted into a two-shot lead. Best of all from his perspective this piece of brilliance was rapidly followed by another episode in the life and crazy times of Mickelson, who hit his tee shot at the par-three 4th off the stand at the back of the green and into a bush.

The left-handed American declined the option of a penalty drop, preferring instead to take a couple of right-handed swats at his ball, eventually making his way into the greenside bunker. By the time he finished he had taken six shots. It was his second triple bogey of the week, more evidence — not that any more was needed — that, while Mickelson is never boring, he is occasionally a bit daft.

Luckily for him, and for us, he is also blessed with sublime talent and the guts of a trapeze artist. Gradually he battled his way back into contention with birdies at three remaining par-fives, the 8th, 13th and 15th holes. It was good stuff but it was not vintage Mickelson when the moment required vintage Mickelson.

Gone are the days when the great ocean liners of American golf, Woods and Mickelson, had only to hove into view and the others would start quaking in their spikes. Reputations do not count for much these days. There is too much talent, too much hunger, too many players grappling for control of centre stage. No one is scared any more.

And as the afternoon progressed so the pool of potential winners expanded.

Padraig Harrington was suddenly in the hunt courtesy of a couple of early birdies. Then came Ian Poulter, whose brilliance with the putter will always give him a puncher’s chance around this dear green place.

The issue with golf’s king of twitter is his occasionally variable ball-striking, though it did not let him down on this particular day.

Starting the day at two under par, he went out in 33 shots – better than anyone else on the leaderboard. If he had taken another 33 shots on the back nine, he would have had a serious chance of putting additional pressure on the leaders. He could come home only in a level-par 36, though, his hopes undone time and again by putts that slipped narrowly past the hole. The vultures have been hovering over Poulter for a while now, ready to dismiss his credentials as a top-class player. Perhaps this will shut them up for a while.

Lee Westwood is another who has come under scrutiny from those who argue that he does not possess the short game required to win a major championship. There may be something in that — after all the Englishman finished 59th in putting out of 62 players who played all four rounds — but there is also a weight of evidence to suggest that his ball-striking is so good that it might one day be good enough to carry him to the promised land.

All he needs is a bit a luck, just enough to make the ball fall into the hole rather than run round the back of the cup, as it did on the 15th green on Sunday. Thus an eagle was transformed into a birdie — a good score, no doubt, but not good enough. “When you consider the way I putted, there are a lot of positives to take from this. I am obviously playing very well,” he said afterwards.

It was a familiar refrain from Westwood but it was the truth. He finished two of the pace, level with Hanson, Mickelson and Matt Kuchar, after a final round of 68.

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Peter Hanson leads from Phil Mickelson at Augusta Masters 2012

Peter Hanson

By Rob Hodgetts BBC Sport at Augusta

Sweden’s Peter Hanson made a late surge to take a one-shot lead over Phil Mickelson into the final round of the Masters on Sunday.

The 34-year-old soared to nine under with a stunning 65, the best round of the week, as he seeks his maiden major title in only his second appearance at Augusta.

Mickelson, 41, fired a back nine of 30 for a 66 to join Hanson in the final group as he pursues a fourth Green Jacket in nine years.

South Africa’s 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen (69) is one adrift with Americans Bubba Watson (70) and Matt Kuchar (70) six and five under respectively.


-9 Hanson (Swe)
-8 Mickelson (US)
-7 Oosthuizen (SA)
-6 B Watson (US)
-4 Harrington (Ire), Westwood (Eng)
-3 Lawrie (Sco)
-2 Poulter (Eng), Couples (US)
level Rose (Eng)
+1 McIlroy (NI)
+2 McDowell (NI)
+3 Woods (US)
+7 Donald (Eng)

England’s Lee Westwood (72) is in a group on four under alongside America’s Hunter Mahan (68), Ireland’s Padraig Harrington (68) and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (70).

Tiger Woods will begin the final round 12 shots back after treading water at three over with a level-par 72.

Rory McIlroy slumped to a 77 to end one over and world number one Luke Donald took 75 to end seven over.

Halfway leaders Fred Couples and Jason Dufner fell away on Saturday with rounds of 75 to end two under in a goup which includes England’s Ian Poulter, who carded 70. Scot Paul Lawrie has sole possession of 10th place on three under after a 72.

Eight players held at least a share of the lead at some stage on an absorbing day in the Augusta sun.

Despite favourable scoring conditions, no-one was able to escape from the pack until Mickelson sank a 25ft eagle putt on the 13th to join Kuchar and Oosthuizen in the lead at six under.

That seemed to inspire Hanson, who was playing up the 14th, and the 2010 European Ryder Cup player made four birdies in his last four holes.

Mickelson, who made his first birdie at the 10th and added another at the short 12th, was energised, too.

He fired further birdies at the par-five 15th, courtesy of an outrageous, high-risk high pitch from off the green to a few feet, and a birdie for a third day in a row at 18 after hooking his second shot around trees onto the green.

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Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson
 Mickelson’s majestic back nine

Mickelson credited Thursday’s fightback from four over after 10 holes to end with a two-over 74 as the foundation for his bid to equal Woods and Arnold Palmer’s record at Augusta.

“When I look back at this tournament I’ll look at Thursday,” said the Californian, who has won all of his previous four major titles from the last pair.

“At some point I’m going to get hot here but I’ve got to be in a position to move up the leaderboard, not just get into the weekend. The way I fought back Thursday made that possible.”

“It’s going to be tough. It’s a new situation to me,” said the Swede, who lost 4&2 to Mickelson in the 2010 Ryder Cup singles at Celtic Manor.

“I’ll try to do the normal stuff. I’ve got my two kids here and my wife, so just try to stay in the house and cook in, and like I said, I probably won’t be watching a lot of Golf Channel or stuff. Just trying to stay away from all that and try to get as much sleep as I can and try to be ready.”

Oosthuizen, who has struggled with injury since his Open triumph at St Andrews, joined Mickelson on eight under on the 17th but a wayward approach into the crowd handed it back on 18.


Image of Wayne Grady Wayne Grady Golf Analyst, BBC Sport

Hanson played magnificently – every tee shot, he was picking up the tee straight away and his iron play was spectacular. He was very much in control but there’s a difference between having a low round and taking the lead into the final round. He’ll have a sleepless night tonight. He will be playing with Phil Mickelson, a three-time champion, but the expectation Phil has on himself is pressure itself, while Oosthuizen is just sitting back there.

Four-time champion Woods, who apologised for Friday’s club-throwing and kicking histrionics after struggling with his swing, looked briefly back on track and set to make a charge similar to his final-day assault last year.

He fired birdies at the par-four third and the short fourth but soon dropped a shot at the par-three sixth courtesy of a three putt and again at the par-five eighth and was unable to take advantage of any of the holes coming in.

“It’s so frustrating because I am so close to putting it together,” said the former world number one. “I unfortunately did not play the par fives very well. I just didn’t take care of the opportunities when I had them.

“I would just hit a couple of good shots in a row and compound the problem with a bad shot in the wrong spot.”

McIlroy began the day one back and looking to atone for a final-round 80 last year, but he went out in 42.

The 22-year-old and playing partner Sergio Garcia, who shot 75 to end one under, acknowledged their shared struggles with a hug on the 12th green after both making their first birdies of the round.

“It was a congratulatory hug,” said McIlroy. “We couldn’t feed off each other’s good energy because there wasn’t any,” added Garcia. “Our bad holes were really bad and our good holes were bad.”

Westwood, who was second to Mickelson in 2010, birdied the second to edge to five under for a share of the lead but dropped back to two under after 13 before clawing his wasy back into a tie for sixth with birdies at 14 and 15.

Hanson and Mickelson will go out in the final group at 1440 (1940 BST) on Sunday as the 76th Masters nears its conclusion.

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Padraig Harrington
 Harrington ends round on high

McIlroy moves, Tiger fumes as Couples shines at Augusta Masters 2012

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts to missing a birdie putt on the eighth green during second round play in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 6, 2012. REUTERS-Mark Blinch
Tiger Woods of the U.S. reacts to almost sinking a chip shot on the 12th green during second round play in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 6, 2012. REUTERS-Mark Blinch
Bae Sang-Moon of South Korea chips to the ninth green during second round play in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 6, 2012. REUTERS-Brian Snyder

By Simon Evans

AUGUSTA, Georgia

(Reuters) – Rory McIlroy moved in for the kill and Tiger Woods was left kicking his club in frustration during a Masters second round that ended with Americans Jason Dufner and Fred Couples sharing the lead.

A log-jammed leaderboard, featuring five players one stroke off the pace, sets up a fascinating weekend for the first major of the year with 52-year-old Couples, winner here 20 years ago, cast in the role of nostalgist’s underdog.

McIlroy, the world number two and U.S. Open champion, shot a composed two-under-par 69 to move within a stroke of the lead but the man he was presumed to be dueling with at Augusta – four-times Masters winner Woods – came close to imploding.

Woods pushed his tee shot right into the bunker on the 16th and hurled his club to the floor before kicking it away in a flash of anger and frustration.

There was no shortage of grimacing and muttering from a tired and unhappy looking Woods as he battled through the final holes, struggling but avoiding a total meltdown that would have left him missing the cut.

After opening with birdies on two of his first three holes, Woods had five bogeys the rest of the way and posted a three-over 75 that left him eight shots back of the leaders and three shots from missing the cut.

But the raw data does not capture the disappointing display from a player who, fresh off his first PGA Tour win in 30 months, was made bookmaker’s favorite this week.

McIlroy started the day four shots off the pace but the Northern Irishman made a solid start with three birdies on his first seven holes, including a 35-foot birdie putt on the par-three fourth.

He briefly had a share of the lead, after a birdie on the 15th, but slipped back after he bogeyed the 17th hole.


Spain’s Sergio Garcia looked set to join the American duo atop the leaderboard but bogeyed the par-four 18th to finish at four-under 68, a shot off the pace along with Lee Westwood (72), Louis Oosthuizen (72), McIlroy and Bubba Watson (71).

Couples mixed seven birdies with two bogeys for a five-under-par 67, matching the second round score he shot at Augusta National in 1992 when he won the Masters.

“I feel like I know every inch of the course. I’ve played 28 years here and today was really a magical day,” said Couples. “I’m going to be right there with everybody Saturday and Sunday, well, Saturday for sure.”

Overnight leader Westwood had parred his first 10 holes and produced two birdies on the back nine but undid a lot of his work on the final hole where he three-putted for a double bogey.

South Africa’s Oosthuizen, who began the day tied for second, had a rough start to his round with a double-bogey seven on the second hole before a strong finish that included three birdies on his final five holes.

But the surprise face among the leaders was Couples, who plays mainly on the senior Champions Tour but showed has vast understanding of the course where he won his only major.

The veteran, who started the day in a share of 29th place, had two bogeys and five birdies on the front nine and was flawless the rest of the way, making birdies at the 15th and 16th to move to five-under.

Dufner has recently made a habit of getting into the lead in the first half of tournaments only to fade at weekends but he will be looking to go one better than at last year’s PGA Championship where he lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.

South African Charl Schwartzel, who won last year’s Masters title by two shots when he became the first champion to birdie the last four holes, was eight shots back after a three-over 75.

Among those missing the cut were nine former Masters champions and reigning British Open champion Darren Clarke.

Australian Jason Day, joint runner-up last year, withdrew from the event with an ankle injury after seven holes of his second round.

(Editing by Frank Pingue) Newscribe : get free news in real time

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Masters 2012: Fred Couples grabs share of lead with seven birdies!

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Fred Couples grabs share of lead with seven birdies Masters 2012!

• 52-year-old storms to the front with five-under-par 67
‘To be a part of the this day is really a great thrill’

Fred Couples won the Masters 20 years ago and he put on a vintage performance during the second round at Augusta. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

There is something about Fred Couples and Augusta National. A marriage made in heaven perhaps? A beautiful romance, no doubt. The 52-year-old American won here 20 years ago. He has come close a few times since and he might come close again in 2012.

The weekend is yet to unfold and the weekend is when the favourites, the likes of Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, will bring their absolute best. But if the Northern Irishman, the Englishman or anyone else wants to win the Green Jacket he will have to gets past Couples.

In cold and blustery conditions more akin to Southend in March than the American South, the laid-back Californian strolled around in his casual way, stopping occasionally to hit a booming drive, an arrow-like approach or a confident putt. He had seven birdies, a couple of bogeys and nine pars. It all added up to a five-under-par 67, leaving him in a tie for the lead alongside his compatriot Jason Dufner.

Can he keep this up? Couples certainly thinks he can. “This is my favourite golf tournament in the world and today was just another day when I felt if I hit the ball solid and not do any crazy things, then I had a chance,” he said afterwards. “Even so 67 is a shocking round. For me to be a part of this day really is a great thrill.”

At the very least he will carry the hopes and affections of the Augusta National galleries, to whom he has been a romantic hero for a couple of decades. His problem is that those piled up behind him on the leaderboard are more ambitious and romantic. McIlroy and Westwood and Sergio García, all of whom were within one shot of the leader, will fancy their chances. Phil Mickelson is another whose presence will loom in Couples’ overnight dreams.

The American left-hander has played erratically over the first two days, visiting parts of the property where only topographers dare to tread. But when it mattered he answered the call, steeling his game and his mind for the full 18 holes and a round of 68, four under par. He will begin the third round three shots adrift of the leaders. He likes his chances.

Tiger Woods was more lukewarm about his and who would blame him after a second-round 75 which was almost shocking in its sloppiness. Professional golfers seldom hit shanks. Woods hit two in the space of two holes, at the 15th and 16th. Garnish those with a broad selection of poor drives, bad putts and what a tennis buff would call “racket abuse” and you have a meal guaranteed to bring indigestion.

The former world No1 made the cut but essentially ended his chances of winning his first major since the summer of 2008. Woods arrived here as the tournament favourite. Barring a miracle over the weekend, he will depart a disappointed man.

A legion of his fans around the world will weep tears over that. The rest of the field will not. A neutered Tiger increases everyone else’s chances – a simple calculus that will hearten a player such as Westwood.

The Englishman has come close here over the years but never won. He led after the opening day and played well again on Friday. Yet for all the excellence of his play he did not capitalise on the chances he was creating. Time and again he found the greens in regulation, giving himself an opportunity to extend his advantage only to be undone on the frailties of his short game. Missed putts are common currency on greens as fast and as complex as Augusta National’s but Westwood missed far more than his share. Such setbacks prey on the mind, especially of those who hit the ball as well and as accurately as he does. It breeds the suspicion that misfortune might be round the corner.

Sometimes calamity never arrives. Sometimes it does. Alas for Westwood it came on the brutish 18th. He negotiated the drive well enough but then hooked his approach shot left of the green. From there he took another four shots to get his ball in the hole – a double-bogey six which saw him signing for a one-over-par round of 73.

That dropped him from outright leadership into a tie for third place on four under for the tournament. This was hardly devastating in the greater scheme of things – it certainly did not end his chances of winning the Green Jacket – but it hurt, even if Westwood insisted it did not.

“I played well today and have put myself right in contention for the weekend, which is where you want to be,” he said afterwards. “I got myself in a lot of good positions on the greens and hit a lot of good putts which mysteriously didn’t go in. But overall I’m happy.”

Joining Westwood was McIlroy, whose opening-round 71 was perhaps the best he could have scored given the erratic quality of his play on Thursday. He came back in far better fettle after ironing out a little technical glitch with his swing and immediately made his move.

Three birdies on the front nine established real momentum and a position of intent which he maintained over the back nine. He signed for a three-under 69 – not brilliant, but more than good enough. “I am happy with where I am going into the weekend,” he said.

You can bet your life he is.

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Rory McIlroy & Tiger lead way at Augusta Masters 2012

Peter Hanson leads from Phil Mickelson at Augusta Masters 2012

McIlroy moves, Tiger fumes as Couples shines at Augusta Masters 2012

Rory McIlroy & Tiger lead way at Augusta Masters 2012

Rory McIlroy
By Rob Hodgetts BBC Sport at Augusta
  • Venue: Augusta National, Georgia
  • Dates: 5-8 April
  • Live BBC TV coverage: BBC Two Saturday & Sunday from 2030 and 1900 BST; Amen Corner plus holes 15 & 16 on Saturday & Sunday on Red Button & online
  • BBC Radio: 5 live from 2100 BST on Thursday, Friday & Saturday; 2000 BST Sunday

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are the top two in the betting but a host of the world’s top players will be looking to upset the odds when the 76th Masters gets under way on Thursday.

Four-time champion Woods appears back in form with a victory last month to suggest he is the man to beat around Augusta.

World number two McIlroy has also won recently and 12 months after blowing a four-shot lead going into the final day returns as US Open champion.

“It’s great for the game of golf and the Masters that it’s been such a good run into it with the top players winning big events and Tiger coming back into form”

Lee Westwood Former world number one

But Luke Donald, the world number one, three-time winner Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and in-form American Hunter Mahan are other names to watch in the year’s first major.

The 36-year-old Woods won his first PGA Tour event for 30 months at Bay Hill to announce his comeback after several years of turmoil in his private life, injuries and swing changes.

The former world number one plunged outside the world’s top 20 but is now back up to seventh and claims he is hitting the ball as well as he did in 2000 when he won three majors, before clinching the 2001 Masters to hold all four of the marquee titles at the same time.

“I’m excited. Everything is heading in the right direction at the right time,” said Woods, who won his first Masters title 15 years ago and has not finished out of the top six for the past seven years.

Victory on Sunday would leave him just one behind Jack Nicklaus’s record of six Green Jackets and take him to 15 major titles, three off Nicklaus’s mark of 18.

McIlroy, 22, returns intent on putting behind him last year’s infamous final-round 80 having led for three days. In fact, his disaster could have been the making of him as he went on to totally dominate the US Open two months later and clinch his first major title. On Tuesday he insisted he is a “better person and better golfer”.

“Obviously there are memories that come back and memories you don’t want,” said McIlroy. “It’s fine. I got all that out of the way. I’m looking forward to trying to put myself in contention to win this thing.”

Donald was overtaken as world number one by McIlroy earlier this year but he regained top spot with a victory in March for his fifth win in 14 months. The Chicago-based Englishman, who is considered one of the best short-game exponents of his generation, has a best Masters finish of third – on his debut in 2005 – and was fourth last year.

“I feel very good about this course. Having a good short game is important here,” said Donald, who opted not to defend his par-three tournament title to focus on the main event. “What’s very magical about this tournament is usually Sunday is a great chance to make a run.”

Donald was joined in skipping the par-three competition by Open champion Darren Clarke, the Northern Irishman describing himself as “sore” as he tries to overcome a groin injury.

“I don’t think another nine holes is going to do it any good,” the 43-year-old said.

Mickelson, 41, won the last of his three Masters titles in 2010 and is bidding to join Woods and Arnold Palmer on four Green Jackets.

“The entire off-season we have been dreaming about this week starting,” said Mickelson. “It’s my favourite week of the year and I just enjoy every minute of it.”

Previous Masters winners

  • 2011 – Charl Schwartzel
  • 2010 – Phil Mickelson
  • 2009 – Angel Cabrera
  • 2008 – Trevor Immelman
  • 2007 – Zach Johnson

Westwood, 38, is also still searching for a first major title after finishing second in the Masters and Open in 2010 and recording six other top-five finishes in majors. The Englishman has been gearing his game specifically for this week since the end of the US PGA last August.

“I’m pretty confident. The golf course suits my game,” said Westwood, who also tied sixth at Augusta in 1999.

“It’s great for the game of golf and the Masters that it’s been such a good run into it with the top players winning big events and Tiger coming back into form. It’s whipped up a bit of a frenzy.”

America’s Mahan has won twice this season to move up to fourth in the world, while England’s Justin Rose, who has led or shared the lead at some point on all four days in previous Masters, also triumphed in the US recently.

South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel was the surprise winner last year after storming to his first major title with four birdies in the last four holes. Now up to eighth in the world, Schwartzel is bidding to become only the fourth player to record back-to-back Masters titles after Nicklaus (1966), Faldo (1990) and Woods (2002).

Rising American star Keegan Bradley, the US PGA champion, is playing in his first Masters but the last time a debutant won was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Woods tees off with Miguel Angel Jimenez and Bae Sang-Moon at 1035 (1535BST) on Thursday with McIlroy off in the penultimate group alongside former champion Angel Cabrera and Bubba Watson at 1342 (1842 BST).

Donald follows Woods’s group with Mickelson bringing up the rear in the company of Mahan and Peter Hanson at 1353 (1853 BST).

Golf legends Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will hit the ceremonial opening tee shots ahead of the 96-man field at 0740 (1240 BST).

The Augusta area was hit by thunderstorms on Tuesday night and further rain lashed the course on Wednesday afternoon, causing the par-three tournament to be suspended early. But officials are confident that the course will be playable despite further showers and thunderstorms set for Thursday. No rain is in the weekend forecast.

“Clearly, the golf course will not be as firm and fast as it would otherwise be,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters’ competition committee. “We are very confident that we will have comparable tournament-speed greens.

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