April 8, 2010

          The 74th Masters gets under way at Augusta National on Thursday after a build-up dominated by the return to golf of world number one Tiger Woods.The four-time Masters winner is playing his first tournament since a four-month break following the disclosure of a string of extra-marital affairs.
          Woods has been grouped with countryman Matt Kuchar and South Korea's KJ Choi in the first two rounds and will tee off in the penultimate group at 1342 (1842 BST) on Thursday.
        The 34-year-old American faced the media on Monday for the first time since his affairs became public, admitting that he was "blown away" by the positive reception he received from fans, and pledged to rebuild his image.
          Augusta chairman Billy Payne said on the eve of the tournament: "We at Augusta hope and pray that our great champion will begin his new life here on Thursday in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner. "He disappointed all of us. Our hero did not live up to his expectations of the role model we saw for our children." Mickelson believes Woods will be a contender despite his lay-off, citing the 2008 US Open which Woods won after a two-month break and with a serious knee injury that required a further nine months off for surgery. "I don't think anybody out here will question his ability to perform at the highest level. From a players' point of view, we expect to see the same player that we have always seen," said Mickelson. But Faldo, a three-time Masters champion, says Woods could struggle to make the cut.

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