The Latest: Amateurs hope to grow golf in native countries

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) The Latest on the Masters (all times local):

12:35 p.m.

Tiger Woods will tee off at 10:42 a.m. Thursday in the first round of the Masters. Woods will be paired with Marc Leishman and Tommy Fleetwood.

Defending champion Sergio Garcia, Justin Thomas and amateur Doc Redman will be in the group behind Woods. Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson and Jason Day will tee off behind them, creating a star-studded stretch of golf at the year’s first major.

Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar will tee off in the afternoon, at 1:27 p.m.

Rory McIlroy, who is going for the career Grand Slam, tees off at 1:38 p.m., followed by 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is in the final group, which tees off at 2 p.m. Johnson had to drop out of the tournament last year after injuring himself in a fall.

The tournament will begin at 8:15 a.m. with ceremonial tee shots from Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

12:15 p.m.

Lin Yuxin and Joaquin Niemann hope their appearance at Augusta National will help golf become more popular in their native countries.

Lin earned his spot at the Masters by capturing the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last October, making him one of two players from China in the field. Niemann won the Latin American Amateur title in January in his native Chile.

”The game in China is just getting bigger and bigger,” the 17-year-old Lin said. ”I can see a lot of young kids playing, starting to play golf when they are like 5 or 6. … I can see a bunch of kids on the range every day at practice and, yeah, the game in China is just getting really popular. Everyone seems to enjoy it and they love it.”

The 19-year-old Niemann said the sport still has some catching up to do in Chile.

”But there’s still a lot of people that play golf that love the Masters,” he added. ”When I was a child, it was a dream to be here. When I was like 4 or 5 years old, I was watching the Masters on TV. So it feels nice to be here.”

11:50 a.m.

Justin Thomas no longer gets questions about when he’s going to capture his first major title.

He took care of that last year at the PGA Championship, which made his news conference Tuesday at Augusta National a lot more pleasant.

”Not getting questions on a day like today: When do you feel like you’re going to get your first major? Or, do you feel like you’re one of the best players without a major?” Thomas said. ”I was glad to get that over with as quick as I could.”

Thomas is coming off an amazing season that included five victories in all, as well as a FedEx Cup championship. He’s off to another stellar start in 2018 with a pair of wins.

That makes Thomas one of the players to beat at the first major of the season.

”When I get in those scenarios or when I have a chance to win a big tournament, or any tournament, I’m able to look back at the PGA Championship and just remember the things that I went through the feelings I felt, the emotions that I had, and just try to kind of learn from that and use it to my advantage,” he said.

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