McIlroy looks to Master Augusta

The Masters gets underway on 7 April, and, as the first of the four majors in 2016, gives the whole field an opportunity to make their mark before the remaining three big events.

Golf is unusual in that, although there may be players who dominate on the circuit, it is rare for one player to win the same major in two consecutive years. This phenomenon has been true at The Masters, with Tiger Woods being the last person to don the Green Jacket in back-to-back years (2001 and 2002).

It also gives Rory McIlroy a chance to shine. The tournament is the only major at which the Northern Irishman has yet to taste victory (with a fourth-place finish last year his best). He enjoyed a stellar 2014, in which he notched two of the sport’s top prizes, as well as the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the BMW PGA Championship. However, 2015 was a little disappointing, as despite claiming three titles, he had a barren year when it came to the big honours.

For a year, the 26-year-old occupied the No.1 spot between the Summers of 2014 and 2015. Since then, the accolade of ‘‘world’s best golfer’’ has passed between himself, whizzkid Jordan Spieth and Australian Jason Day, with the latter of the three having assumed the mantle. Day’s three-stroke triumph at the 2015 PGA Championship was an impressive statement of intent, and at the relatively tender age at 28, you can’t help feeling that his best years are ahead of him. He will want to avenge previous near misses at Augusta, with his closest effort being a runners-up finish in 2011, when he tied for second place along with fellow Aussie Adam Scott.

Spieth will be hoping that home backing can spur him on to victory, and the signs are certainly positive. He is the reigning champion at this event, which was followed by further success at the US Open, before posting fourth-place and runners-up finishes at The Open and PGA Championship respectively. Despite being only 22, he has shown that youth is no barrier to success. When it comes to the big occasion, Spieth has kept a cool head. Two-time champion at the event Bubba Watson will once again be among the contenders, while Scott has also enjoyed recent success here.

Looking at their form so far in 2016, Scott has set the bar, with two Tour titles within a week. However, the manner of Spieth’s sole tournament triumph this season suggests that he has the game to emulate the achievements of his countryman Woods. By scoring 30 under par at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he recorded a personal best score and followed Ernie Els in becoming only the second person to have reached such a landmark score at a regulation tournament. In doing so, he also matched Woods in securing a seventh PGA Tour title before his 23th birthday. With that milestone taking place in late July, the Texan has ample opportunity to eclipse that feat, starting on Thursday.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: Jack Gruber/USA Today

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