AUGUSTA – Safety fears over expected severe storms prompted Masters officials to advance Sunday's final-round start with trios off two tees and Tiger Woods predicts a "testy" Augusta National if winds howl.
Woods, a 14-time major champion trying to win his first major title since the 2008 US Open, will play alongside Italy's Francesco Molinari and US compatriot Tony Finau in the last threesome off the first tee at 9:20 a.m. (14:20 SA time).
"Usually the reward is for playing hard and doing all the things correctly, you get a nice little sleep in come Sunday, but that's not going to be the case," Woods said.
"We've got to get up early and get after it. It will be interesting to see if that wind comes up like it's forecast – 15-20 mph around this golf course is going to be testy."
Molinari leads on 13-under par 203 with Woods, chasing his fifth Masters title and first since 2005, and Finau two shots adrift.
Finau also expects Augusta National to be formidable if leaders are finishing as ill winds begin to blow.
"Whether it's wet or it starts to blow and it rains, it's going to turn into a whole different golf course," Finau said. "Hopefully with the tee times moving up we're able to play some clean golf so that weather doesn't play too much of a factor.
"But if it starts to blow, starts to get windy, starts to rain, the golf course is an animal to play when it's in tough conditions."
Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley announced Saturday the course would open at 7:15 and play would start at 7:30 from the first and 10th tees.
Severe thunderstorms are predicted in the vicinity of the famed course for late Sunday afternoon, when leaders would normally be battling for the green jacket – prompting the safety move for spectators and players alike.
"The safety of everyone on our grounds is paramount," Ridley said.
"We also believe the earlier start will give us the best opportunity to complete the Masters on Sunday. This decision should benefit everyone – the players, our patrons and our fans watching around the world."
Phil Mickelson, seven adrift and trying to become the oldest major winner in golf history at age 48, applauded the move.
"The fact that we're going early takes away any adverse effect the weather might bring in," the three-time Masters winner said. "They put the integrity of the competition first as opposed to having us tee off right in the worst of the weather and having it carry over.
"I think it's a really good decision."
Reigning PGA Championship and US Open champion Brooks Koepka, three adrift of Molinari in fourth, is happy for the early start to chase his third major in four starts.
"It will be nice not having to wait all day, not having to wait six hours from when I'm up, so you can just get out there and go play," he said.
Molinari adopts a matter-of-fact attitude, the weather being equal since they will literally all be in it together.
"The positive is that you don't have to wait until 2:30 to tee off. Hopefully we can go out and finish before the bad weather gets here," Molinari said.
"I try not to be too fazed about that sort of stuff. It's still going to be the same course for everyone. We're going to play at the same time and I just need to do my things and do them well and see if that's going to be good enough."AFP