The Latest: Woods opens Masters with Leishman, Fleetwood

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

1:45 p.m.

Tiger Wood calls his comeback ”a miracle.”

Woods is playing the Masters for the first time since 2015, after going through spinal fusion surgery to relieve chronic back pain.

The four-time Augusta champion says he doesn’t ”know anybody who had lower back fusion and can swing the club as fast as I can swing it.”

After myriad health problems, Woods seems to have his game in order heading into the first major of the year. He’s listed as one of the co-favorites, even though the last of his 14 major titles came nearly a decade ago at the U.S. Open.

Woods last won the Masters in 2005. He couldn’t play the last two years because of back issues, which he describes as ”very, very difficult.” He watched as much of the tournament as he could on television, but adds that ”it’s even more fun playing.”

Woods like his chance this week. In his words, ”This is a tournament where it really helps to have experience” and he has ”an understanding of how to play this particular golf course.”

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 home 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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