Tiger Woods headlines wide-open 2018 Masters

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Tigermania has blossomed along with the azaleas at Augusta National, but 14-time major champion Tiger Woods is just one of the contenders at a Masters that promises to be a classic.

Johnson's No. 1 under threat World number one Dustin Johnson comes in on a mission, having missed the Masters previous year thanks to a freak fall on the stairs that halted the hottest streak of his career in its tracks. Tuesday, an alliance with former adversary Phil Mickelson. "He's won 43 tournaments and five majors in the Tiger Woods era". Can this be the week when he makes amends for a last-day capitulation here back in 2011 and land the victory he needs to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods in golf's career Grand Slam club?

He tees off at 8:52 a.m. on Thursday with Mike Weir and Brendan Steele. The competition is for amateurs rather than professionals, and only the last round will be held at Augusta National; the two before it will be at the nearby Champions Retreat.

"I'm going to take it really easy", he said.

Not quite. Spieth is the favorite with oddshark.com, followed by Northern Irishman McIlroy, world number two Justin Thomas and then Johnson.

The stage is set for a Masters Tournament that has had such a huge buildup that even the players are excited to see how it plays out this week.

"This is my 42nd Masters and I have never been a part of a week where there's been any more excitement", he said.

But there they were, yukking it up together while strolling through the back nine at Augusta National.

McIlory was only too happy to keep his campaign against all the "get in the hole" yellers going this week.

I don't discount his chances although there is something about his statistics this year that seem inflated.

The victor of golf's last major, the US PGA, is Justin Thomas and the American, a childhood friend of Spieth, is arguably golf's hottest talent.

With a bogey to Tiger's birdie on the hard, par-4 11th, Mickelson dropped to 12 under and three behind Woods. but he would fight back and pulled to within one shot again on the par-5 15th. "And nobody really dares go at either one of them, because we know they've got beef on us, and accolades that we can only dream of accomplishing".

Nevertheless, Johnson says his confidence level remains high, a 9 1/2, perhaps, compared to 10 on a scale of 10 a year ago. He would be the oldest to win a green jacket, and Lefty has had a career resurgence this year with his first victory anywhere since 2013 and four other Top-6 finishes.

"As well as concentrating on my stuff I'll get to watch him up close and see what he does and there's nothing better than that".

Woods has become a mentor to Justin Thomas, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler among other youngsters. "You get someone like Mike Weir, you get somebody like Angel Cabrera, Sergio, Seve (Ballesteros), Phil, Tiger, people who hit it straight, people who don't hit it straight, people like Bubba (Watson)".

"But, look, it's not that dilly dilly, fine with me. I don't think it's going to be a huge surprise now". I honestly believe that. "But given his history here, I think even more so".

His return to Augusta National Golf Club Thursday comes after years spent struggling with injuries. He also leads a whole raft of Masters statistical categories since 2012, including most birdies and eagles and best scoring on the par fours and par fives.

Woods and Mickelson are attempting to become the first Masters victor in his 40s since Mark O'Meara won in 1998 at 41.

Tiger's name is back on the scoreboard at the Masters and that's something to talk about.

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