Masters 2014: Tee times and pairings to watch for Thursday's first round

Steve Dykes

Every tee time at the Masters is "special," but here are the start times for the biggest names playing on Thursday.

The Masters is the most unique of the four major championships for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which is the size of the field. The green jackets of Augusta have very different qualifying rules than the U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship.

This year's field is on the larger side at 97 total players, but it still allows the tournament organizers to send the field off one tee. At the other three majors, you get threesomes off split tees and starting times jammed in from sun-up to sun-down. Any weather interruption usually throws those majors off for a couple days, but at Augusta, everyone plays the course as intended, starting at No. 1.

With the smaller field, there's usually a name worth watching in almost every single group, each going off in 11-minute intervals. There aren't those unknown qualifiers who made it through local sectional qualifying or the PGA pros who are usually giving lessons instead of playing for million dollar purses, so it's hard to narrow down the "featured groups" like we typically do each week on the PGA Tour. But there are those pairings that Augusta made a little extra juicy.

In the morning, the marquee group is Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Patrick Reed. In this transitional year with no Tiger Woods for the first time in two decades, this is probably the most notable group of the first two days. If this is a changing of the guard, then these three could be the next big faces in golf. All three are under 25, and McIlroy and Spieth are considered the top two prospects in the game, one from each side of the Atlantic. They'll go off at 10:52 a.m. ET, one group after the defending champion. Here are your marquee groups in the morning:

Tee Time Players
9:35 a.m. Graeme McDowell Rickie Fowler Jimmy Walker
9:57 a.m. Zach Johnson K.J. Choi Steve Stricker
10:41 a.m. Adam Scott Jason Dufner *Matthew Fitzpatrick (amateur)
10:52 a.m. Jordan Spieth Patrick Reed Rory McIlroy

In the afternoon, the big name carrying the late play will be Phil Mickelson. The three-time champion has said that he prefers to play late, in the final group of the day if possible. Well, he's almost there on Thursday, playing in the penultimate group off No. 1 tee in the first round. While a course is usually beat up by the time the afternoon groups make their tour through a course, at Augusta, the small size of the field that leaves the course in pretty good shape and the improved weather conditions often make it an advantage to tee off later. Here are the marquee groups that will be out late:

Tee Time Players
1:04 p.m. Jason Day Dustin Johnson Henrik Stenson
1:15 p.m. Bubba Watson Luke Donald Sergio Garcia
1:48 p.m. Phil Mickelson Ernie Els Justin Rose
1:59 p.m. Harris English Lee Westwood Russell Henley

These are the groups with the top names but, of course, every tee time is worth watching just because it's the Masters and golf is back. The full tee sheet for Thursday's first round here.

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