Outsiders forced to play with Tiger trap

Choi and Kuchar given dubious honour of partnering world No 1 on competitive return
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The Independent Online

The recipients of the Most Dubious Honour in the History of Dubious Honours were yesterday named as Matt Kuchar and K J Choi. The journeyman American and the inscrutable Korean have been selected to accompany Tiger Woods in his first two competitive rounds in five months here at the Masters tomorrow and Friday.

The group will be the second last out tomorrow at 1.42pm local time. It means the TV will get to show all of Woods' back nine live. While the BBC and Co will be celebrating that, they will blanch at Friday's schedule. Teeing off at 10.35am, Woods will finish his round at approximately 3.30pm. That is half an hour before the TV coverage begins.

By then, Kuchar and Choi might feel like they've joined a circus, although at least Kuchar can draw on his experience in 1998. Then he was a 19-year-old amateur when he was "drawn" with the phenomenon who 12 months before had set so many records when winning the Masters by 12 shots. Since then Kuchar's tenure on the PGA Tour has yielded two Tour titles. In his one previous professional appearance at the Masters, he missed the cut. He was among the outsiders anyway here, but now his chance is even more remote.

As is that of Choi. The 39-year-old is a multiple winner on tour and has reached as high as world No 7. But he has struggled for the last two years and is labouring down in 43rd place. It seems the Augusta green-jackets have gone out of their way to pick two players without much profile in America and, to be frank, without much of a hope, although it is telling that the huge Asian market will have a representative in the most watched three-ball ever.

Woods is one of the few here who believes his partners will not be affected. "Of all tournaments, this is the one tournament where it's not as bad," said Woods. "The media is not allowed inside the ropes. You don't have it like at the US Open and British Open, where we have over 100 people inside the ropes. If there's one week that you would rather have a pairing with me it would probably be this week."

The British challenge has been spared, though Ian Poulter might suffer a few distractions as he is in the group immediately preceding Woods.

Yesterday, Woods played his practice round with his friend Mark O'Meara, who was impressed by what he saw. "He's hitting it well and trusting what he is doing," said O'Meara. "I think he's ready for this."

Once again the reception from the galleries was positive but reports did emerge of an incident on Monday which apparently saw one of Woods' private security guards approaching a crowd member on the fifth tee and asking her: "Ma'am, are you the stripper?" He then pulled out a sheet of colour mug-shots of Woods' mistresses. One of them, Joslyn James, a porn star, has threatened to turn up to confront Woods. When the security guard realised this was not her, he told the stunned woman: "We've just got to be extra careful."

The Masters: First two rounds selected tee times

Tomorrow and Friday (US unless stated, all times BST, (x) denotes amateur):

1312 and 1619 I Woosnam (Wal), B Gay, M Leishman (Aus)

1334 and 1641 J Senden (Aus), D Toms, G McDowell (N Irl)

1356 and 1714 M Kaymer (Ger), G Ogilvy (Aus), L Donald (Eng)

1429 and 1747 D Johnson, O Wilson (Eng), A Quiros (Sp)

1440 and 1758 M Weir (Can), L Westwood (Eng), (x) M Manassero (It)

1502 and 1809 C Campbell, F Molinari (It), P Casey (Eng)

1513 and 1820 E Els (SA), A Kim, R Ishikawa (Jpn)

1524 and 1831 A Cabrera (Arg), J Furyk, (x) Byeong-hun An (Kor)

1535 and 1842 P Mickelson, R Allenby (Aus), Y E Yang (Kor)

1557 and 1250 B Crane, S Dyson (Eng), M Campbell (NZ)

1608 and 1301 L Mize, R Palmer, C Wood (Eng)

1641 and 1334 R Moore, R Fisher (Eng), N Watney

1736 and 1418 C Villegas (Col), K Perry, R McIlroy (N Irl)

1820 and 1513 C Schwartzel (SA), S Cink, P Harrington (Ire)

1831 and 1524 Y Ikeda (Jpn), I Poulter (GB), S Stricker

1842 and 1535 T Woods, M Kuchar, K J Choi (Kor)

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