Woods to open with Kuchar, Choi

Wednesday, April 07, 2010
By Mike Wynn
Staff Writer

And the short straws go to Matt Kuchar and K.J. Choi.

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Tiger Woods checks his cell phone on the 10th green during his Tuesday practice round at Augusta National Golf Club. He will be paired with Matt Kuchar and K.J. Choi on Thursday.

(Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

They were selected to play with Tiger Woods in Thursday's highly anticipated opening round at the Masters Tournament. It will be Woods' first competitive round since November.

The buzz since Monday among players, media and patrons centered on who would be what some considered the sacrificial lambs. The answer came early Tuesday afternoon.

Kuchar learned of the 1:42 p.m. grouping after he walked off the first tee during his practice round. Fred Ridley, the chairman of the Masters competition committee, told him of the selection.

The former U.S. Amateur champion, who played at Georgia Tech, said he took the news in stride.

"I kind of anticipated it," Kuchar said. "I think most of us in the field thought it probably was going to be (him). We all figured that somebody's got to get the lucky straw, and I got the lucky straw."

Kuchar played in the first round with Woods in 1998 at the Masters, a traditional opening round pairing of the defending Masters champion and the reigning U.S. Amateur winner. He played steady, shooting even-par 72, one stroke more than Woods. He doesn't expect the experience to be much different this time around.

Tiger Woods and Kuchar were paired once before in the opening round of the Masters. It was 1998, and Woods was the defending champion at Augusta; Kuchar was the reigning U.S. Amateur champ.

(File)

"Back in 1998, Tiger Woods was the defending Masters champion and everybody was excited to see him," Kuchar said. "Everybody's still going to be excited to see him. I don't anticipate the crowd being a whole lot different. People get excited to see Tiger whether he's got issues off the field or winning golf tournaments left and right."

ESPN, which will televise the first two rounds of the tournament, could be the big winner if ratings are as high as expected.

Woods will still be on the course when the network begins its coverage at 4 p.m.

ESPN Executive Vice President John Wildhack said on a conference call Tuesday that the Masters is "the storyline, and we're here to cover the Masters Tournament."

The threesome playing before Woods is the one that might encounter problems with crowds moving around, Kuchar said. One member of that group, Steve Stricker, acknowledges as much.

"To be right in front of him, there's going to be some extra movement going on, but I'm not with him," he said. "So, I guess it's not a good or bad thing."

Matt Kuchar tees off at No. 18 during Tuesday's practice round. The former Georgia Tech player said it was no big deal to be paired with Tiger Woods and K.J. Choi in Thursday's opening round.

(Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

Choi, however, will be with Woods. When he learned of his Thursday grouping on the 14th hole, his reaction was: "Ohh, that's good news."

The South Korean, who won Woods' AT&T National tournament in 2007, considers the four-time Masters champ a friend and calls him a "humble person." He said he hopes patrons will look past Woods' missteps come Thursday.

"I hope everybody supports Tiger," he said.

Kuchar looks at Thursday's grouping as a chance to, in his words, "be a witness to (Woods') first round back." Peter Kuchar, who caddied for his son in the 1998 Masters, said the round could have some unforeseen benefits.

"If he holds playing with Tiger under these circumstances, and plays as well as he's been playing this year, I think he'll have ice water in his veins come Saturday and Sunday," he said. "This is a great chance for Matt to show a lot more fans and TV viewers just how well he's doing this year."

Kuchar is sixth on the FedEx Cup points list and the money list and has four top 10s and six top 20 finishes this season.

He has played well this season, but is aware he and pretty much everyone else will be second bananas on Thursday.

"It's going to be cool to have a front-row seat for it," Kuchar said.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Mike Wynn at (706) 823-3218 or mike.wynn@augustachronicle.com.