How Masters Pairings and Tee Times Are Determined

Augusta National Officials Decide the Pairings at Masters Tournament

Masters groupings and tee times
This early morning grouping at The Masters included three golfers, so we know it was a first- or second-round group. In the final two rounds, golfers play in pairings of two. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

How are Masters pairings and tee times determined for the first two rounds of the golf major championship? Any darn way the Augusta National poobahs please—those club officials in charge of running the tournament make the pairings for the first two rounds. Once the third and fourth rounds arrive, however, the guidelines for setting the groupings of golfers and their start times revert to a set formula in use at all pro tournament.

An Augusta Committee Sets the Groupings and Times for Rounds 1 and 2

Augusta National Golf Club has a committee of members who meet and determine which players are grouped together in Rounds 1 and 2, and what those groupings' tee times will be. Those committee members exercise full authority, and have complete discretion to group players as they see fit.

Otherwise, Augusta National does not divulge any trade secrets about the process; they don't discuss it at all. But it's definitely not a random draw. The pairings and times are the result of consultation among the club's tournament committee members.

The One Traditional Pairing

There is one Masters pairing that is the same every year: The reigning U.S. Amateur champion (if he's still an amateur) plays Rounds 1 and 2 with the defending champion of The Masters.

(If the reigning U.S. Amateur winner turns pro prior to The Masters, he forfeits his spot in the tournament.)

The Pairings Process Also Considers Fans, TV Networks

The pairings and tee times at The Masters also take into account the needs of television broadcasters and of fans.

For example, the two biggest stars in the field are likely to play at opposite ends of the draw. Let's use Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods as examples. Most likely, one will play in the morning tee times and the other will play in the afternoon. This guarantees that one of the two biggest stars, either Mickelson or Woods in this example, will be playing during television coverage.

Those are the kinds of things the Augusta competition committee will think about when making the pairings. They also aren't immune to having a little fun in the first two rounds with "theme" groups. For example, in 2009 one of the early round groups was comprised of three young hotshots, Anthony Kim, Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa. Nothing random about that kind of grouping. It's a group that fans and the TV network will be happy with.

The committee might group three former champions together, or three winners of other majors, or three golfers of the same nationality. But most of the tee times won't have such a clear connection between the golfers within them.

Tee Time Intervals and Number of Golfers in the Pairing

First- and second-round groupings at The Masters include three players, and tee times are 11 minutes apart. For the final two rounds, after the cut, pairings are comprised of two golfers (unless weather delays create the need to stick with 3-man groups), and tee times are 10 minutes apart.

What About 3rd-, 4th-Round Pairings?

Pairings for Rounds 3 and 4 are based on scores; the better a golfer's score, the later his tee time. The golfer in last place after two rounds tees off first in Round 3; the golfer in first place after two rounds tees off last in Round 3. The same thing holds in the fourth and final round.

But what about ties? Let's say there are six golfers tied for the lead. In a case like that, the 3rd- and 4th-round pairings and tee times are based on the order in which those six golfers posted their scores. Among those six tied players, the one who posted the score first (the first one to finish his previous round, in other words) will tee off last among that group of players; the one who posted the score last will tee off first among that group of players.

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