Aussies draw glamour Masters groups
AUSTRALIANS Marc Leishman and Adam Scott will get a front-row seat to the most hyped show at the Masters in years after being paired with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy for the opening rounds.
The Woods story continues to gain a near unimaginable amount of momentum as he looks to reassert his Augusta dominance after two years in the wilderness he thought would end his career.
Massive galleries have flocked to watch the four-time Masters champion through the opening two days of practice, with thousands following his Tuesday foursome with Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Belgian Thomas Pieters.
Woods, now 42 and after less than a year since spinal fusion surgery, declared he was in his best shape for seven years, and his condition, physical and mental, had amazed him so much he said it was a "miracle" he was back at Augusta, and a contender.
"It's crazy. I'll be honest with you, it is crazy. I thought prior to the fusion surgery that that's pretty much it. I'll have a nice, comfortable and great life, but I'll never be able to swing the club like I used to speed-wise, just there's no way," Woods said.
"But for some reason I don't have any pain. Yes, I'm much tighter, but I don't have any pain. All of a sudden I have this pop and my body and my speed's back and my timing. I'm hitting speeds that I hit in my prime..
"It is a miracle. I went from a person who really had a hard time getting up, walking around, sitting down, anything, to now swinging the club, you saw it at one of the Trackman's, 129 (mph). That is a miracle, isn't it?"
Leishman, Woods and England's Tommy Fleetwood tee off at 10.42am local time (0038 Friday AEDT) in Thursday's first round.
McIlroy is seeking to become only the sixth ever player to complete a career Grand Slam of major championship victories with a Masters win at his 10th attempt.
The Northern Irishman has done everything possible to prepare himself, playing 90 holes in visits to Augusta over the past month before topping things off this week.
"I feel as prepared as I ever have been," McIlroy said.
"I always try to be as well prepared as I possibly can be for each and every golf tournament I play, but this week I feel like everything's coming together very nicely.
"And hopefully all of the good things that I've seen in my competitive play and my practice and my preparation hopefully I can put all of that to good work over the next few days."
He hits Augusta in ominous form too, having won at Bay Hill last month with the sort of putting display that could prove crucial on the mercurial greens at the Masters.
"I feel like I found something with my putting over the past few weeks, and in good time" McIlory said.
"Because obviously you need to putt these greens very well, and I feel as good as I have with the putter for quite a while. So if you can be comfortable on these greens, you can be comfortable on any greens."
Alongside Scott and Rory McIlroy will be Spanish world No.3 Jon Rahm with the group to get their first round underway at 1.38pm (0338 AEDT).
Fellow Australian Jason Day has also been given a marquee group, playing alongside two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson and former British Open champion Henrik Stenson at 11.04am (0104 AEDT)) on day one.
Rounding out the four-man Australian contingent at Augusta is Brisbane native Cameron Smith, who will tee off at 11.26am (0126 AEDT) with Billy Horschel and Chez Reavie.
Other big-name groups include 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth playing with in-form Swede Alex Noren and former British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen at 1.49pm (0349 AEDT)).
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson will tee off at 1.27pm (0327 AEDT) with world No. 8 Rickie Fowler and American veteran Matt Kuchar. Sergio Garcia will begin his Masters title defence at 10.53am (0053 AEDT) playing alongside world No. 2 Justin Thomas and amateur Doc Redman. World No.1 Dustin Johnson, who missed last year's Masters due to a freak accident on a staircase, will play with English star Justin Rose and Rafael Cabrera-Bello at 2pm (0400 AEDT).
Leishman, Scott and fellow Aussie Jason Day played a rare nine holes together on Tuesday afternoon to round out their preparations, with the Par 3 contest to come on Wednesday, before Thursday's opening round.
- with AAP