Woods' tee time: 1:42 p.m. ET Thursday

Updated: April 6, 2010, 11:31 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA , Ga. -- Tiger Woods' first competitive round of golf this year will begin at 1:42 p.m. ET Thursday alongside K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar.

The threesome is the second-to-last group to tee off on the first hole at Augusta National, where Woods will make his much-anticipated return to golf after nearly five months away from the game.

The group will tee off at 10:35 a.m. ET Friday.

Woods
Choi
Matt Kuchar Kuchar

Woods' opening shot will be shown live Thursday on ESPN's "SportsCenter." Full television coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN.

There will be an hour of coverage online (Masters.com, ESPN.com) beginning at 3 p.m. ET.

Choi, 39, from South Korea, is a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour. Woods has played with Choi 12 times, including 10 times in a stroke-player tournament. Choi's average in those events was 70.8 while Woods' was 68.4. Woods defeated Choi twice at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Choi learned of the grouping from an Augusta National official while playing the 15th hole in a practice round.

"It's funny because I sort of had a feeling when I left Dallas to come here that it would be cool to be paired with Tiger,'' Choi said through an interpreter, Michael Yim. "And it happened. It's a good surprise."

Choi added: "For me, I'm used to playing with Tiger. I expect the atmosphere to be what it is going to be. I'm not worried about it. When you play with Tiger, it's hard to explain, but there is an aura that is different than playing with other players. But I'm used to it, so I don't think it is going to bother me at all."

Kuchar, 31, is a two-time winner. As the reigning U.S. Amateur champion in 1998, he was paired with Woods, the reigning Masters champion, in the opening round. Kuchar shot a 72 to Woods' 71. The only other time they have played came at the 2005 Deutsche Bank in the third round, when Kuchar shot 70 to Woods' 72.

"If there's anyplace to be paired with him with great crowds, it's here," Kuchar said. "...The beautiful thing about the big crowds here -- it's easier to play in front of a huge crowd than a crowd of 12 people. With 12 people, you can see each individual. With a huge crowd, it just blends in. People can make noise or murmurs, it just kinds of drowns out."

Unlike at a PGA Tour event, the Masters does not allow media, photographers or other officials inside the ropes. That typically makes for a hectic scene at every tournament in which Woods plays.

But at Augusta, it will be just the players and caddies, which makes for a better experience for the golfers.

"Of all the tournaments, I think this is the one tournament where it's not as bad," Woods said during his Monday news conference. "The media is not allowed inside the ropes. You don't have like at the U.S. Open and British Open, we have over 100 people inside the rope that are moving around.

"It's going to be a lot more at ease this week than most weeks. If there is one week you'd rather have a pairing with me, considering the circumstances, it would probably be this week."

Still ...

"It's never easy being paired with Tiger in terms of your whole tournament," said Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion. "I'm sure the stats will show this out, but guys who are paired with Tiger on Thursday and Friday ... they may beat him on Thursday and Friday but they don't have as good of a weekend because that's a lot of energy used up.

"There's more focus and more stress and there will be questions about how do you feel about playing with Tiger ... They are all questions that are adding a bit more stress to the week."

Woods' playing partners in their first round of the Masters have played to a scoring average of 74.71, or 2.71 shots above par. Only three times since Woods turned pro has a playing partner shot a lower score than him in the first round -- Ricky Barnes in 2003, Darren Clarke in 2005 and Stewart Cink last year.

Perhaps even more daunting is being in the group that plays directly in front of Woods.

Those players have to constantly deal with spectators who are rushing ahead on the course to try to gain a prime vantage point for when Woods' group arrives.

Japan's Yuta Ikeda, England's Ian Poulter and Steve Stricker will be in the preceding threesome that tees off at 1:31 p.m. ET.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com