Drama builds for tension-packed Masters shootout

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US golfer Jordan Spieth blows the ball on the 9th hole during the Par 3 contest prior to the start of the 80th Masters of Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday, in Augusta, Georgia. AFP PHOTO

US golfer Jordan Spieth blows the ball on the 9th hole during the Par 3 contest prior to the start of the 80th Masters of Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday, in Augusta, Georgia. AFP PHOTO

AUGUSTA, United States: Last man in will be the first man out when the 80th Masters gets under¬way at Augusta National on Thurs¬day (Friday in Manila), with the new generation of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy all keen on making strong starts.

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At 38, Jim Herman won his first tournament in 106 tries at the Houston Open on Sunday to punch the last ticket into the first of the year’s four majors.

He will have his moment in the spotlight as the first competitor to tee off shortly after Masters legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player perform their roles as honorary starters.

The big names will follow later in what is forecast to be a blustery and showery opening morning.

Defending champion Spieth is first in action at 9:48am (1348GMT) in the company of England’s Paul Casey and rising young US amateur Bryson DeChambeau.

The Texan won by four strokes last year with a record-matching 18-under par total and two months later he added the US Open crown.

World number one Day, looking to win back-to-back majors after his PGA Championship triumph in August, has an afternoon tee-time at 1:06pm, playing with Matt Kuchar and South African veteran Ernie Els.

McIlroy, making his second bid at becoming just the sixth player to win all four majors, is the last man out at 2:01pm with Ryder Cup teammate Martin Kaymer and Bill Haas.

Not an ideal spot to be, in but the Northern Irishman said he will take it in his stride.

“I think it’s the third year in a row I’ve been off last either Thursday or Friday here. I was sort of expecting it,” he said with a shrug.

In the injury-forced absence of four-time winner Tiger Woods, the biggest gallery could well be following three-time champion Phil Mickelson, who will be aiming to make it four at the age of 45.

At the Masters, age for him is not a factor.

“I don’t feel old at all. I feel great,” he said. “I guess maybe you hang around these young guys as much as I have been, you just feel young.”

The five-time major winner will be off at 10:43am along with Australian Marc Leishman and Swedish threat Henrik Stenson.

Bubba Watson, Masters champion in 2012 and 2014, thinks he can make it another even-year triumph heading out at 12:44pm in the company of South Africa’s Branden Grace and Ian Poulter of England.

The winner in 2013, Adam Scott, has a 11:05am start, playing with Kevin Kisner and Brooks Koepka.

At 35, the Australian is all too aware that the arrival of young guns such as Day, Spieth, McIlroy and Rickie Fowler means that it can only get harder for him to win a second major.

“I need to get my skates on because it’s getting tougher and tougher every year. But I’m in good shape,” he said.

The 80th edition of the tournament, which was first held in 1934, sees 89 players from 23 countries contesting the top prize and the honor of donning the green jacket that goes to each winner.

AFP

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