April 5, 2018 / 1:06 PM / 15 days ago

Golf-Masters braced for Tiger-mania as first round gets underway

AUGUSTA, Georgia April 5 (Reuters) - Tiger-mania swept over the U.S. Masters on Thursday as the year’s first major took on a rock concert vibe with Tiger Woods once again the headline act at Augusta National as first round play got underway.

Giddy golf fans from around the world, some who had paid over $6,000 on ticket resale sites for a four-day badge, lined up before dawn at the Augusta National gates determined to score a prime spot at Amen Corner or the 18th green to watch what is widely expected to be the most hotly contested Masters in years.

Several blockbuster storylines are possible, not least the quest of Woods to defy long odds and collect a fifth Masters title less than a year after undergoing spinal fusion surgery.

Woods may have won the last of his four Green Jackets in 2005 and not claimed a major victory since the 2008 U.S. Open but the former world number one will have the backing of massive galleries when he tees off at 10:42 a.m. ET (1432 GMT) with Australian Marc Leishman and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.

The trio will be followed to the tee by another hot favourite, world number two Justin Thomas, and reigning champion Sergio Garcia of Spain.

The crowds will be in for a full day of drama, with many of the late starters also expected to mount Masters challenges. Among those are Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, who is bidding to complete the career grand slam and join Woods, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player in that elite club.

The last group out could also shake up the leaderboard with world number one Dustin Johnson and Englishman Justin Rose, who has been runner-up two of the last three years, bringing the curtain down on Day One.

Masters legends Nicklaus and Player got the 82nd Masters off to a rousing start by hitting the ceremonial tee shot before turning the first tee over to American Austin Cook, who was the first of the field of 87 golfers to tee off. (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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