So here it is, a Masters week unlike any other.
The world has changed an awful lot since we were meant to be taking that journey down Magnolia Lane in April. (Indeed, the world has changed an awful lot in the last three days.)
We all have our own idea as to who might slip into the Green Jacket on Sunday. Since that fateful day in 2011, my heart has always said Rory McIlroy. I’m certainly not alone in that. Rarely since then has my head agreed.
This year my heart says Jordan Spieth, who is on a downward spiral of his own and will head to Augusta as the 75th-ranked player in the world. And while I’ve already been laughed out the building for suggesting that Spieth might just need a return to his happy place to reignite his career, it’s the most confident I’ve been for a decade that it’s McIlroy’s time to pull on sport’s most famous piece of clothing.
We’re all still teetering on the edge of therapy from not only what happened nine years ago but what’s happened since as he bids to put right that final-round 80 that still leaves so many of us in a cold sweat just thinking about it.
That meltdown left him on the phone to his mum in tears and ever since he has admitted that Augusta makes him feel uncomfortable. But it’s also a course that we’re told time and time again suits his game better than anyone else’s.
And while he has previously admitted he comes here over-prepared far too often, now it’s quite the opposite for McIlroy, whose own life has changed somewhat significantly in recent months with the birth of his daughter, Poppy.
McIlroy and dad, Gerry, had an overnight stop in Augusta a couple of weeks ago to get 27 holes in, but other than that it’s been all about embracing fatherhood.
“If I let something consume me too much then I start overthinking it – it’s just not a good thing,” he told ESPN. “It’s almost a nice thing to not have the Masters on your mind 24/7.”
McIlroy, who says wife Erica and Poppy will be at Augusta this week, added: “It’s such a nice thing to be able to get your mind off golf.”
Since a disappointing tie for 21st last time out, a result that snapped a streak of five straight top 10s, McIlroy has spent 18 months working with meditation and reading shelves and shelves of self-help books. And now there’s new meaning to his life.
Throw in the fact that McIlroy likes playing at this time of year – 11 of his 26 wins as a professional have come in the autumn or winter – and it all adds up to the first Grand Slam golfer since Tiger Woods became the fifth player to achieve our sport’s Holy Grail more than 20 years ago.
Anyway, watch this and get yourself in the mood…
Garcia out of Masters
Sergio Garcia is out of the Masters after testing positive for Covid-19.
The 2017 champion said: “On Saturday night after driving back from the Houston Open, I started feeling a bit of a sore throat and a cough. The symptoms stayed with me on Sunday morning so I decided to get tested for Covid-19 and so did my wife Angela. Thankfully she tested negative, but I didn’t.
“I will sadly miss the Masters this week.”
It will end a remarkable streak for Garcia, who hasn’t missed a major in a long time.
The news comes a few days after Joaquinn Niemann also confirmed he had to pull out of the same reasons.
Want to own some cool Masters memorabilia?
While we’re on the Masters, and in lighter news, this was a great spot by my colleague Steve Carroll.
If you’re a golf memorabilia collector and have 30 grand burning a hole in your pocket then this might be right up your street.
It’s Seve Ballesteros’s Sounder Golf bag that he used en route to victory in the 1983 Masters.
Is it really the same bag? I’ll need to see the papers, but if it is I’m concerned the owner has such a fantastic piece of sporting history and yet it looks like it’s been kept buried in the garden.
Anyway, that’s here if you want to bid.
And the Headline of the Year award goes too…
Take a bow, South Ayrshire Daily News.
What happened on tour this week?
I’m not going to insult you by telling you whether you should or shouldn’t like it when the tours try something a bit different, but I’m always open to something a little bit different and, for me, the European Tour and LET did a fantastic job.
The Cyprus Showdown and its funky format worked perfectly for a second of a two-week run at the same resort. And it produced a popular winner in Robert MacIntyre, who told us back in September: “When my game is on, it’s just a matter of time until I get over the line.”
He needed less than two months.
- Related: What’s in MacIntyre’s bag?
The ladies, meanwhile, were in Dubai for the Moonlight Classic, a 54-hole shootout that, you guessed it, was played under the lights. It seemed to really capture the imagination, so credit where credit is due.
And what a putt by Minjee Lee to seal it.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Carlos Ortiz won his maiden PGA Tour title – holding off a now-out-of-quarantine Dustin Johnson and resurgent Brooks Koepka, no less.
Also a shout out to Tyrrell Hatton, who now has eight top 10s on the PGA Tour in the last 12 months, as well as wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and over here on the BMW PGA Championship.
If the 29-year-old’s only missed cuts in that time hadn’t come in the two majors, I’d be slinging a tenner his way this week.
Right, that’s enough. Enjoy the Masters, and don’t forget to check out our dedicated website to the year’s first-slash-third major, including interviews with Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Ian Woosnam, Nick Dougherty, and many more.
And if you want to follow me on Twitter, you can do that right here.