Much ado about Tiger's playing partners

April, 6, 2010
04/06/10
2:17
PM ET
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- At this point, it's almost like we're fishing for more Tiger Woods-related stories.

How else to explain why the anticipation of the anouncement of his playing partners at this week's Masters Tournament and their ultimate revelation has become such major news?

It was announced early Tuesday afternoon that Woods will play in the 1:42 p.m. ET group with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar in the opening round. Almost immediately, speculation was that such a grouping will throw off the games of those veteran pros, in effect killing their chances of contending for a green jacket.

I don't get it.

During Woods' first two practice rounds here at Augusta National Golf Club, we've already witnessed galleries showcasing the same modicum of respect toward him in his return to golf as to anyone else in the field. I can't imagine such a display will diminish once the tournament rounds begin, and I can't imagine it won't extend to his playing partners, as well.

Honestly, I'm not sure whether many people believe patrons will simply walk away after Tiger hits a shot, leaving Choi and Kuchar to fend for themselves with so much hustle and bustle outside the ropes or whether there will actually be some catcalls from the gallery. But I don't see either one taking place to the extent that it will adversely affect their results.

Even though this will be Woods' first round after a 144-day leave of absence from competitive golf, don't expect the grouping to feel much different than any other round with him from an inside-the-ropes perspective.

Both Choi and Kuchar have been in this situation before. Choi has played with Woods in official events on a dozen occasions, compiling a 70.8 scoring average to his 68.4; Kuchar has been paired with him twice -- including the opening round of the 1998 Masters -- and actually owns a scoring average that's a half-stroke better than Tiger.

Of course, this doesn't mean that no players in the field will be affected by Woods' presence on the course.

It could very well be a detriment to the threesome following this group. That would be the final group of the day, comprised of Adam Scott, David Duval and Ricky Barnes. With so many of the patrons trying to follow the guys ahead, so much movement outside the ropes could alter their sightlines and concentration.

As for Choi and Kuchar, though, don't empathize with them just yet. They may not be in contention going into the weekend, but it won't have anything to do with their other playing partner.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.
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