Tee time with Tiger places Li at center of Augusta attention

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File photo of Li Haotong. [CGTN]

Li Haotong will tee off at the Masters this week in the illustrious company of the legendary Tiger Woods.

Chinese No 1 Li, who is making his second appearance at the major, can expect huge galleries and an intense media spotlight for the first and second rounds at Augusta National after being drawn to play alongside four-time champion Woods and Spain's Jon Rahm.

Looking close to being back to his best last year after finally recovering from back surgeries, the 43-year-old Woods arrived at Augusta in a confident mood.

"I feel like I can win," Woods told a media conference on Tuesday. "I've proven I can do it and I put myself there with a chance to win the last two major championships of the year last year.

"I was right there and just needed to have a couple more things to go my way. I've worked my way back into one of the players that can win events."

Woods' biggest challenge these days is getting enough practice.

"I just can't log in the time that I used to, and that goes with every part of my game," Woods said.

"I can't work on every single part of my game every day. I have to pick different parts of my game to work on, and that's the challenge I now face going forward.

"I just have to figure it out and try to create a good balance to find a prep of what I need to work on. It was a little bit easier when I could work on everything, but that's no longer the case."

Whopping wager

Woods won't be the only big winner if he finishes on top of the leaderboard.

A bettor in Las Vegas will pocket nearly $1.2 million if Woods wins the Masters for the first time since 2005.

The unidentified gambler placed an $85,000 wager on Woods on Tuesday to win the Masters. The bet was made at 14-1 odds, meaning the bettor will walk away with $1,190,000 if Woods wins.

The bet made with the William Hill chain represents the largest liability for an individual golf wager in the British company's US history.

Rory McIlroy tops the betting, listed as a 7-1 favorite by William Hill, followed by Dustin Johnson (10-1), Woods and Justin Rose.

The longest odds in the field? Bettors can win $20,000 on a $10 bet if Viktor Hovland somehow wins the green jacket.

Hovland, a Norwegian amateur who plays at Oklahoma State University, is listed at 2,000-1.

Fun with Phil

The story of Brooks Koepka coming to the Masters as a kid and failing to get an autograph from Phil Mickelson in the parking lot at Augusta National has turned into a running joke.

Koepka first told Mickelson the story when they played a practice round together at the 2014 British Open.

"I was like, 'Listen, man, you stiffed me, and I really didn't like you for a long time,'" Koepka said on Tuesday, calling himself "probably the only kid Phil ever turned down".

"He told me years later that I shouldn't have been in the parking lot, so fair enough," Koepka added,

"Yeah, well, he shouldn't have been there," Mickelson confirmed, when asked about the episode.

"I think I told him that, too."

Not content to let the story die there, Koepka said he finally got Mickelson's signature, sending reporters back to Mickelson to find out if he had Koepka's as well.

"A bunch," Mickelson smirked. Asked whether the request was made in a parking lot, Lefty chuckled: "I did it in the appropriate location."

Hottest tickets in town

The secondary ticket market for this year's tournament is sizzling.

A one-day entry for Wednesday's final practice round-with a face value of $75-was being offered for $2,500 and up on StubHub and Vivid Seats.

Rain, accompanied by occasional flashes of lightning, prompted Masters officials to cut practice sessions on Monday and Tuesday and may have contributed to driving up prices.

Those who don't want to buy tickets online often take their chances with scalpers.

Although Augusta National prohibits the resale of tickets, it's not against state law, so scalpers remain a familiar site-provided they don't conduct business closer than 2,700 feet from the venue.

"We have people that will push the boundaries from time to time," said a spokesman for he Richmond County Sheriff's Office. "Typically, who we have the most problems with are just people being uneducated about the state law."

Damage limitation

Players who cave in the face of their drivers or whose shaft breaks against a tree trying to play a shot at the Masters can now replace the club.

The US Golf Association and the Royal& Ancient on Tuesday provided a clarification to Rule 4.1b that allows for a local rule that permits players to replace a broken or significantly damaged club, except in cases of abuse.

That's a change from the new Rules of Golf and it's aimed primarily at the elite level. Under the new rules, players could still use damaged clubs for the rest of the round, but they couldn't replace them.

The local rule defines "broken or significantly damaged" if the shaft breaks in pieces, splinters or is bent (but not when it is only dented); the club is deformed, detached or loose from the shaft, or the grip is loose.

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