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Tiger Woods again the one to watch at Masters

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Sports,Golf,Kevin Dunleavy

Storylines to watch

1 Tiger's drought » After winning three of five tournaments and regaining his world No. 1 ranking, is Tiger Woods ready to resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships? Eighteen majors have passed since Woods captured the last of his 14 titles at the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods won the last of his four green jackets in 2005 but has been a leader board fixture at Augusta, finishing among the top six each year from 2006 to 2011. Uninspired work on the greens prevented Woods from winning some of those events. This season, however, Woods ranks first on the tour in strokes gained putting.

2 Women at Augusta » For the first time in 77 years, Augusta will host the Masters with women as members. Last year, the club welcomed former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore. On Sunday, three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson played a round with Rice. It's a long way from 2002, when Martha Burk tried to pressure the club into admitting women. On Wednesday, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne was asked by ESPN's Rick Reilly whether he missed the annual controversy. After a long pause and with a wry smile, Payne said, "You have a question, Rick?"

3 Chinese Tiger » Tianlang Guan, a 14-year-old from China, will become the youngest player in Masters history. He secured his spot last fall when he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur. Guan won't turn 15 until October. The previous youngest, Italy's Matteo Manassero, was 16 years, 11 months old when he played in the 2010 Masters. Taking on the 7,435 yards of Augusta National will be daunting for the 5-foot-8, 125-pound Guan, who hits his driver 250 yards. "It's frightening to think he was born after I won my first Masters," said Tiger Woods, who played a practice round with Guan on Tuesday.

Masters
First round
When » Thursday
Where » Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club
TV » 3 p.m., ESPN

4 Underachieving Brits » From 1988 to 1996, players from the British Isles won five of nine Masters, including three by Nick Faldo. But since then, they have been shut out. It hasn't been for a lack of quality contenders. Among the top 13 in the current world rankings are four players from England - No. 3 Justin Rose, No. 4 Luke Donald, No. 12 Ian Poulter and No. 13 Lee Westwood -- who have never won a major. No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 17 Graeme McDowell, both from Northern Ireland, won back-to-back U.S. Opens (2010-11), but neither has placed better than 12th at the Masters.

Last year

In the 2012 Masters, Louis Oosthuizen hit the first brilliant shot in the final round, making a double-eagle 2 at the par-5 second hole to take the lead. But later in the afternoon, Bubba Watson trumped it in a playoff with Oosthuizen, hooking a corkscrew wedge out of the trees to within 10 feet for perhaps the most memorable recovery shot in golf history. Watson, 34, had another Masters moment Wednesday, making a hole-in-one with a 9-iron on the 16th hole. Left-handers have won five of the last 10 green jackets, but Watson is a long shot this time. He has not won since his Masters triumph, though he has five top-20 finishes in six events this season.

Fit for a green jacket

Many Americans are primed to win their first major, some of them overdue, including Steve Stricker, who is still ranked No. 8 in the world despite cutting back his schedule. No. 5 Brandt Snedeker, 32, has a win and two runner-ups this year. No. 10 Matt Kuchar, 34, made a splash as low amateur at the 1998 Masters. No. 18 Jason Dufner, No. 19 Dustin Johnson and No. 21 Hunter Mahan also have major stuff.

Under the radar

For under-the-radar contenders, look under the equator at players such as Adam Scott and Jason Day, who will try to become the first from Australia to win a green jacket. South Africans have had much more success at Augusta, winning five times, including 2008 (Trevor Immelman) and 2011 (Charl Schwartzel), which might be a good omen for emerging European Tour star Branden Grace, 24, or veteran Ernie Els, 43, who won last year's British Open.

Numbers

3 Players who have won back-to-back Masters: Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Tiger Woods (2001-02).

63 Shot by non-winners Greg Norman (1996, first round) and Nick Price (1986, first round), the lowest 18-hole scores.

64 Shot by Gary Player on his way to a come-from-behind win in 1978, the lowest 18-hole score in the final round.

$1.50 For a pimento cheese sandwich during the tournament. A club sandwich, beer and potato chips go for $6.50.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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