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4 groups to follow for the opening rounds at Augusta

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry will have some pretty interesting company for the first two days.

THE PAIRINGS FOR the first two days of action at the US Masters certainly didn’t disappoint.

Golf fans around the world cherish this spring week; the first Major of the year and the tournament many look forward to the most.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, there are a number of mouth-watering groups that will be well worth keeping track of as we head towards the weekend action.

1. Mickelson, Leishman, Stenson (Thursday – tee off 3.43pm (Irish time), Friday – 6.39pm)

Houston Open Golf Phil Mickelson is in the mix at Augusta more often than not. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Phil Mickelson, a two-time champion (2006 and 2010), finished in a tie for second with Justin Rose last year, four shots behind Jordan Spieth, on a very respectable 14-under-par.

And he has been in decent form so far this season, with three top-10 finishes in his eight events. But it’s his record around here that really appeals — 15 top-10 finishes, including those two wins, from 23 starts.

He will be joined by two other men in decent form. Marc Leishman has had three top-25 finishes this year and the Australian has also proven in the past that his game suits Augusta, a fourth-place finish in 2013 his standout result.

Henrik Stenson has been in stunning form this season and only last week finished second in the Shell Houston Open. The world number six has proven himself in big events in the past but is yet to win a Major.

His Augusta record is also a concern; he is still without a top-10 finish in Georgia.

2. Day, Kuchar, Els (Thursday – 6.06pm, Friday – 2.59pm)

Jason Day is looking to make it two Major wins in a row this week. Source: Owen Humphreys

Jason Day is currently the bookies’ favourite to have the green jacket draped over his shoulders by Jordan Spieth this weekend, and it’s easy to see why. The consistent Australian finally got over the line at a Major last year, following so many near misses, when claiming the US PGA title at Whistling Straits.

In five starts at Augusta he has finished tied for second, third and recorded two other top-30 results. As for this year, he is officially the world’s top player following a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and at the WGC-Dell Match Play. Put simply, he looks the one to beat this week.

Matt Kuchar has been his usual consistent self with a couple of top-10 finishes and a decent run at the WGC-Dell Match Play. And the Masters has traditionally been his best Major with three top-eight finishes in the past four years.

In recent times, Ernie Els hasn’t been faring so well at Augusta but at the turn of the millennium, he consistently produced the goods here. He had five consecutive top-six finishes from 2000-2004 and is considered by many to be one of the best players never to have won a green jacket.

3. Cabrera, Lowry, Holmes (Thursday – 6.50pm, Friday – 3.54pm)

Phoenix Open Golf Shane Lowry made his debut at Augusta last year. Source: Rick Scuteri

This one is going to be well worth watching off the tee alone, the word explosive comes to mind.

Angel Cabrera may be out of form but the powerful Argentine loves this course, having won here in 2009 and finished in the top ten on five other occasions, including a second place in 2013.

Shane Lowry has shown flashes of form this year but has failed to get back to the level which saw him win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last August. The Offaly man’s phenomenal short game is a joy to watch and he will be keen to improve on his Masters debut last year, when he missed the cut by one shot.

The powerful JB Holmes, currently ranked second on the PGA Tour for driving distance, adds to the appeal of what is already an incredible sporting story. He made a remarkable recovery from brain surgery in 2011, and has since claimed two Tour wins.

He’s been in excellent form this season; he is yet to miss a cut and has recorded two top-10s from seven events. This is just his third Masters start.

4. Kaymer, Haas, McIlroy (Thursday – 7.01pm, Friday – 4.05pm)

Masters Golf Rory McIlroy is still chasing his first Masters win. Source: Chris Carlson

Martin Kaymer may have dropped to 50th in the world rankings but his pedigree is unquestionable, having already won two Majors.

But the German has only played three tournaments this year and is coming into this with question marks over his form. And his record at Augusta is poor, having only made three cuts from eight starts.

Bill Haas comes from serious golfing stock; his father Jay, brother Jay Jr, and uncle Jerry were PGA Tour players while his great uncle, Bob Goalby, won the 1968 Masters.

He is one of the in-form golfers in the US at the moment, having recorded four top-10 finishes in nine regulation tournaments and a tied ninth-place finish at the WGC-Dell Match Play.

His Augusta record is impressive, if unspectacular; six top-40 finishes from six starts, including one tied for 12th and two tied for 20th in the last three years.

How Rory McIlroy would love to finally put his 2011 Masters meltdown to bed with victory this week. Not only that, but in doing so he would become the first European to win all four Majors.

He picked up top-10 finishes in his last two years and comes into this year’s edition in solid form, notably bowing out in the semi-finals of the WGC-Dell Match Play semi-finals to Day. In this kind of form, you’d expect the 26-year-old to still be in contention come Sunday evening.

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About the author:

Alan Waldron

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