AUGUSTA Ga., April 11 (Reuters) - The opening round of the Masters began under sunny skies at Augusta National on Thursday with the top contenders, including four-times winner Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, still hours from taking the famed course.
After golfing greats Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus struck the ceremonial first tee shots, it was Masters rookie Andrew Landry who got the year’s first major underway when he sent his ball right up the fairway at the par-four first.
Thousands of eager golf fans lined up before dawn outside the gates of Augusta National with hopes of scoring a prime viewing area for the opening round of a tournament loaded with compelling storylines.
Woods, who is due to tee off at 11:04 am ET (1504 GMT) alongside China’s Li Haotong and Spaniard Jon Rahm, has not won a major since 2008 but proved last year in his comeback season from spinal fusion surgery that he still has what it takes.
“I know that I can play this golf course,” a confident Woods said this week. “I’ve had some success here. This is unlike any other golf tournament. The golf course is special.”
McIlroy, playing one group behind Woods, will begin his latest quest to complete the career grand slam of golf’s four majors when he tees off alongside American Rickie Fowler and Australia’s Cameron Smith.
This week marks McIlroy’s fifth attempt at the Masters to complete his collection of major titles and is perhaps his best chance yet as the Northern Irishman enters the week in top form.
McIlroy, looking to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Nicklaus and Woods as winners of the career grand slam, has a top-six finish in each of the six stroke play events he has played in 2019, including a win at The Players Championship.
Players teeing off early were greeted by an Augusta National layout that will not play as firm or fast as organisers would have liked given large amounts of rain earlier in the week.
Defending champion Patrick Reed was scheduled to tee off at 10:30 am ET while world number two Dustin Johnson is set to head out at 1:38 pm in the third-to-last group.
Phil Mickelson, world number one Justin Rose and Justin Thomas make up the penultimate threesome and will be followed by Jordan Spieth, Englishman Paul Casey and reigning U.S. Open and PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka. (Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Pritha Sarkar)