The Masters: The stage is set at Augusta National

The Scoop

Favourite McIlroy fancies his chances

Beware the injured golfer. The build-up to this year’s Masters has been more about the aches and pains of the world’s best players as opposed to their most recent win.

Tiger is out after undergoing back surgery, the first time he will miss Augusta since 1994, while there were doubts over a muscle injury to Phil Mickelson’s side.

But, thanks to a contraption called a light therapy machine that he travels with, he is now healed and ready.

Part of Augusta folklore is that we talk about the make-up of Mickelson’s bag, remember the two-driver policy in 2010. This year the left-hander claims that he has NEVER had to play a shot between 90-130 yards in the last six or seven years at Augusta.

The 43-year-old believes that he won’t ever need his gap or sand wedge but that one of them will make it just to make up the numbers.

“I’ve never really talked about it, I don’t know why I am now, it’s just kind of a novelty,” he said. 

“I don’t really need a special club this week. I’ll put a 64-degree wedge in, that will be one of them. I’m not going to play with 13 clubs, but I don’t know what the 14th club is going to be. I’ll throw one in, the sand or gap wedge in, just out of default but I don’t ever use them here.”

Next on the treatment table is Jason Day’s thumb, which has been receiving cortisone shots and has been taped up but it hasn’t stopped him fitting in 36 holes a day which would suggest there aren’t too many problems.

Day could finish the week as World No 1 if he wins the tournament, likewise if Adam Scott finishes tied third or better (with no more than one player) he will also climb to the peak for the first time.

The third member of the No 1 possibles is Henrik Stenson. The Swede ended 2013 as the unofficial best player in the world but is now seen as something of an outsider. Despite a slow start to this term, made better by a share of fifth at Bay Hill, he can officially topple Woods if he ties for second (with no more than one player).

But the majority of the early hoopla will be on Rory McIlroy, who is now as far down as ninth in the world but still the man most fancy to finish the week with a new piece of clothing.

If we were told three years ago that the Northern Irishman would have two Majors to his name by now then most of us would plump for a pair of Augusta victories.

‘I’m not going to play with 13 clubs, but I don’t know what the 14th club is going to be’ – Phil Mickelson
Those two Ws, both by eight shots, came at the US Open and PGA Championship with his best effort a relatively lowly tie for 15th in Georgia. In 2011 he began the last round four clear before going on to post the worst round in history by any professional leading after three days. One over going out, he then came home in 43 to rattle up an 80.

The following day he cried for the first time over golf. Two months later he smashed the field at Congressional.

The ease at which he did build up that lead, with the putter not overly firing three years ago, has left him full of confidence at a course which suits him down to the ground. And if he was in the same position as 2011 then he feels like there would be a very different outcome.

“I would know what to do. I feel like I am going into this one a little bit like 2011. Mind, body, equipment, it’s all there. There’s no excuses if I don’t play well this week,” said McIlroy.

“Everything’s in the right place to allow me to play well so it’s just a matter of managing my expectations, not getting ahead of myself, not thinking about Sunday when it’s Friday afternoon.
Just trying to take it one shot at a time and hopefully those shots add up to about 270 and I walk away with a Green Jacket.”

Words which suggest that he might struggle to take things one shot at a time.

One nice omen for McIlroy is that the four Majors that Tiger has missed in recent years have all gone to Irishmen, McIlroy himself at the 2011 US Open, Padraig Harrington twice in 2008 and Darren Clarke at Royal St George’s.

Then again we’re probably all getting carried away, as ever, with the same old names. Only McIlroy and Mickelson have won two Majors in the last five years with 18 different players winning the last 20 Majors.

This year we have 24 debutants in the field, another anomaly (only Fuzzy Zoeller has won first time out in the modern era) which might just be proved wrong.

All will be revealed on Sunday night.

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