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Two stars, and a wide-open field at the Masters

Golf » Anticipation is high for Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, but quite a few other names are in the mix, too.



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Adding to the wide-open feel is the weather.

An unseasonably warm spring, which caused the azaleas and dogwoods to already lose their blooms, gave way to storms that dumped 1½ inches of rain on the course before dawn Wednesday and toppled a few trees, including one that crashed onto a restroom.

At a glance

The Masters on TV

Thursday’s first-round coverage begins at 1 p.m.

TV » ESPN

Thursday tee times of note

Tiger Woods » 8:35 a.m.

Mike Weir » 10:47 a.m.

Rory McIlroy » 11:42 a.m.

Phil Mickelson » 11:53 a.m.

Note » For the complete list of Masters tee times, see Scoreboard. > D5

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Another storm arrived in the afternoon and cut short the Par 3 Contest, along with making Augusta National even softer. Mickelson said to brace for birdies in such soft conditions. His fear was that players could fire at pins, instead of thinking their way around a course that can require so much strategy.

The forecast was for occasional storms the opening two rounds, followed by sunshine on the weekend. That’s all it takes to change the dynamics of this major. The greens are more receptive, yet a soft course also becomes a longer course.

Soft conditions might favor McIlroy. Remember, Congressional also received plenty of rain at the U.S. Open last summer when Boy Wonder set the championship record at 16-under 268.

"He plays without fear, which is a great way to play," Mickelson said. "When you get soft conditions like at the U.S. Open, he’s going to light it up. And I think that he’s going to continue his great play. If he ends up learning this golf course, I think he’s going to win here a number of times."

Then again, that’s what Nicklaus and Palmer said about Woods when they first saw him at Augusta as an amateur and predicted he would win as many green jackets as they had combined — 10. Instead, he is stuck on four Masters.

McIlroy will be playing with Angel Cabrera the first two rounds, a replay from last year. They were in the final group, when McIlroy shot 80 on the final day to go from a four-shot lead to a 10-shot deficit.

Asked if he felt sorry for McIlroy going through such a meltdown, Cabrera said:

"No, because when I play bad, nobody feels sorry for me. It was a shame, but I didn’t feel bad for him. I knew it was going to be hard for him. When we got done, I told him, ‘This is a tournament you can win many times.’ "


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