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AUGUSTA, Ga. – It's small consolation, but hardcore Tiger Woods fans who can't make it to the Masters for Thursday's opening round can at least take the morning off.
No matter how many screens you own, golf's biggest draw won't make his way onto any of them until sometime after 1 p.m., EST, when the Woods' threesome — which includes Luke Donald and Scott Piercy — reaches the 11th hole. That's the start of "Amen Corner" and not coincidentally, part of the bonus coverage being streamed live on Masters.com, as well as several other online outlets.
The Masters website's live coverage of this year's tournament begins with a streaming telecast from the driving range at 10:45 a.m., which is when the Woods' group tees off. Fifteen minutes later, coverage of the 15th and 16th holes comes online. At 11:45, viewers will be able to follow the first of the day's three featured groups — Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson and Peter Hanson — as they play the back nine.
They'll be followed at noon by the trio of K.J. Choi, Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell. The last featured group is Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley and Freddie Jacobson. Live television coverage doesn't begin until 3 p.m. on ESPN.
The club's daily selection of featured pairings is designed to provide online viewers with three strong groups — each with at least one major winner — playing the back nine to follow ahead of the full TV coverage. The idea is whet the appetite and not, as some might suspect, to slight Woods.
If anything, in fact, think of Thursday's coverage as the anti-Golf Channel, which rarely passes up the opportunity to show Woods on the course. His group will also be part of Friday's featured
A TRADITION LIKE NO OTHER: Paul Azinger was playing a practice round with Mark Calcavecchia and Ken Green in 1988 when the trio arrived at the 16th, a 170-yard, par-3 over a pond that stretches from the tee to a severely sloping green. To spice things up, each anted up $100 to be awarded to whoever could skip the ball across the water — like a flat stone — and onto the putting surface.
In the years since, the sophisticated Masters galleries are in on the joke, practically demanding that every group playing the 16th do the same.
"Nowadays, you get booed if you don't go along," Azinger recalled on the 25th anniversary of that singular event.
So who cashed that day?
"No one made it to the green," Azinger said.
But, hey, at least no one got booed.
BRIDGE OVER NOT-SO-TROUBLED WATERS: So if players don't go along with the informal practice-round tradition at No. 16, how do they keep the boo-birds happy?
Well, a hole-in-one certainly works. Defending champion Bubba Watson did just that during his practice round.
"Everyone is going to say he should have saved it," laughed Fred Couples, who was playing behind Watson's group and had a great vantage point for the ace. "He hit a good shot and it went in. I think that's well worth it."
And Watson got an ovation, besides.
"Oh yeah," Couples confirmed.
Couples, a past champion himself, collected an ace of his own at Augusta National a while back, but it was on the par-3 course. Those aren't nearly as rare. Ben Crenshaw made his hole-in-one on No. 7 of the "little" course and Nick Watney made another at No. 9.
MEMBER'S BOUNCE: Speaking of knocking it straight into the cup, Gene Sarazen made the first albatross on the par-5, 15th hole at Augusta National when he holed out from 235 yards with a 4-wood in the final round of the 1935 Masters. It became known as the "shot heard 'round the world."
Former USGA president Fred Ridley made the most recent 2, and no one saw it — not even Ridley.
Ridley, a club member and chairman of the Masters competition committee, was playing in the late afternoon a few weeks ago when he hit hybrid for his second shot.
"We couldn't see it go in," Ridley said. "It was late in the evening and the sun was in our eyes. When we got to the hole, it was a weird feeling."
It was the first albatross for Ridley, a former U.S. Amateur champion.
The club said it was only the fourth known double eagle on the 15th hole.
YOUTH WILL BE SERVED: Matteo Manassero is no longer the most precocious teenager at the Masters.
The 19-year-old Italian, who three years ago became the youngest player to make the cut at Augusta National, is paired for the first two rounds with Guan Tiangling, the 14-year-old from China who will soon own that distinction.
"I hope he's going to have so much fun like I did," Manassero said
Manassero already had a well-deserved reputation as a phenom when he arrived in 2010. The previous year he'd become the youngest — and first Italian — to win the British Amateur. He also was the youngest to win the Silver Medal, given to the leading amateur at the British Open.
While there was plenty of hype surrounding his first appearance here, Manassero said he never felt pressured.
"Last time it was much more about enjoying," he said. "It was great that I had that opportunity because, of course, not many amateurs have that, and I got to make some experiences you wouldn't be able to make as a professional."
Manassero turned professional shortly after tying for 36th at Augusta National, and later that year became the youngest winner in European Tour history with his victory at the Castello Masters. He's won twice more since, making him the first teenager with three victories on the European Tour.
He was 44th on the final world rankings last season, earning him a trip back to the Masters.
"This is more business-like," Manassero said. "I'm more focused onto performing well and scoring well, playing my game. It's more about competing and, at that time, it was more about living the atmosphere of Augusta.
"I didn't expect to play as well as I did in 2010 here," he said. "Now people expect me to play well and compete well in the Masters. I expect that as well."