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April 11 2013

10:00 AM

Early groups to watch at Augusta

By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The 77th Masters began a couple of hours ago, outlined against a gray April sky that is hanging heavy over Augusta National. Even heavier is the expectation for Tiger Woods to capture a fifth career Green Jacket.

Woods will tee off at 10:34 a.m. ET alongside Luke Donald and Scott Piercy. Here is a closer look at that group, and a couple of other notable ones this morning.

Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Ryo Ishikawa, 9:17 a.m.: As dominant as Sean Foley's prized pupil Woods has been this season, Rose hasn't been too shabby himself. In his three stroke-play starts on the PGA TOUR this year, he hasn't finished outside the top 8, which included a runner-up to Woods at Bay Hill. While he hasn't had a ton of success here -- just two career top 10s -- the one thing that's held Rose back, putting, has at times been very good this season. While Rose has momentum, Snedeker is just the opposite, having arrived here off two missed cuts following five weeks off due to a rib injury in February. Still, Snedeker's short game plays well here and he's contended before, in 2008 when he entered the final round two strokes off the lead before shooting a 77.

Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Steven Fox, 10:34 a.m.: Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods are the only ones to successfully defend here. That doesn't dissuade Watson, though. "As a competitor, as a believer in my game, yeah, I can see pulling it off," Watson said. "It wouldn't shock me. I would still cry, but it wouldn't shock me. The way I look at it, I'm going out there and I want to make the cut because first off, I don't want to have to sit around and give somebody the green jacket. I want to be here on Sunday, playing." Poulter, meanwhile, said earlier this week the Masters is his best chance at a major. Two of the last three years he's finished in the top 10, including in 2010 when he had a share of the lead at the halfway point.

Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Scott Piercy, 10:45 a.m.: Woods hasn't won here since 2005, but he's been in contention several times since. Only once during that time has he finished outside the top 6 -- last year, when he had a career-low tie for 40th. He's won three times this year and comes into the week leading the TOUR in strokes gained-putting. Donald has had his chances here with three career top 10s. One of those came in 2011. Donald shot in the 60s in his last three rounds that year and was in contention on Sunday until Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to win.

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