By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The last group to tee off in Thursday's first round includes Spain's Alvaro Quiros, Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas and the United States' Gary Woodland, who will go off the first tee at 1:59 p.m. ET.
Three different countries ... and three of golf's biggest hitters.
Quiros currently leads the European Tour in driving distance this year with a 314.8-yard average. He led that tour in driving distance for three consecutive years (2007, '08, '09) and was third last year.
Woodland, who won on the PGA TOUR earlier this year at the Transitions Championship, is ninth on TOUR in driving distance at 301.7 yards. In the previous two years, he was sixth (in 2010) and fifth (2009) and also ranked second on the Nationwide Tour last year in driving distance with a 315.1-yard average.
Vegas, the TOUR rookie who won the Bob Hope Classic, ranks tied for 32nd in driving distance on TOUR this year at 294.2 yards, but last year on the Nationwide Tour, he ranked tied for third at 312.9 yards and was third in 2009 at 311.8 yards.
Statistics may not reflect their pure power, though. Dustin Johnson ranks third on TOUR this year in driving distance – six spots ahead of Woodland -- but Tiger Woods thinks Woodland is a bigger hitter.
"I thought Dustin was long ... (but) he's got nothing on Gary," Woods said. "When Gary steps on it whole, it's like, 'Whoa, are you kidding me?' His ball is flat; when you think it should be coming down it, it just continues to fly."
Although it's even more difficult to compare statistics in different tours, Quiros might very well be golf's longest hitter.
But while Augusta National seems perfectly suited to his game, Quiros noted recently that his length sometimes gets him in trouble.
Instead of being worried about where to land the ball on the greens, he gets caught up trying to overpower the course. Or, as he called it, being "ambitious," such as about making eagle on Augusta's par 5s instead of making sure he sets up an easy birdie opportunity.
"These kind of things are not clever things, I think," said Quiros, who has missed the cut in his two previous Masters starts.
Vegas -- who, like Woodland, is making his first Masters start -- played a couple of practice rounds with Dustin Johnson and Charley Hoffman prior to this week. He quickly learned there's more to Augusta National than just hitting it long.
"The thing that surprised me the most was how undulating the course was," Vegas wrote in his blog for PGATOUR.COM . "And how much you hit shots from sidehill lies. Up and down, left to right, right to left, that's what caught my attention.
"I don't think you hit a flat shot on that course, except on par 3s and on tee boxes. It really amazed me. It was a different perspective of the golf course. You have to really get your eyes adjusted to hit shots. It's not as easy as just hitting the ball on the fly."
TALE OF THE TAPE
Category ALVARO QUIROS JHONATTAN VEGAS GARY WOODLAND 2011 driving distance 314.8 yards (Euro Tour) 294.2 yards (PGA TOUR) 301.7 yards (PGA TOUR) Masters starts 2 (MC both times) 0 0 Career wins 5 (Euro Tour) 2 (1 PGA, 1 Nationwide) 1 (PGA TOUR) Last win 2011 Dubai Desert 2011 Bob Hope Classic 2011 Transitions Champ.