And so, for the sixth time, Rory McIlroy heads into the Masters this coming week aiming to complete the career Grand Slam. It’s been this way since April 2015, with the then 25-year-old Irishman having won the Open Championship at Hoylake the previous summer. It is, to borrow from the famously misapplied French phrase of baseball legend Yogi Berra, “déjà vu all over again”. The difference this time is that he’ll be trying to do it in November.
The last time he was on a golf course in competition, last month at Sherwood Country Club in the Zozo Championship (that is going to look so neat on Patrick Cantlay’s CV: winner of the 2020 ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP), McIlroy ended his first round by snapping his wedge in two after a (to be kind) lacklustre shot to the final green missed its target. The result was a 73, although he was rather better during the subsequent three days, playing the remaining 54 holes in 16 under par to finish eight shots behind Cantlay. Over the whole week, he made 29 birdies. “That’s more than enough to win,” he noted. “I just need to cut out the mistakes.” Indeed. Augusta National can be pretty unforgiving about those.
In truth, though, the likelihood is that the majority of the attention, at least before the off on Thursday, is likely to focus on the guy who last won the Masters and the one who won the last major championship to be played.
For Tiger Woods, an unlikely successful defence of his title would draw him level with Jack Nicklaus’s record of six green jackets. (It would also draw him within two of Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors.) I say “unlikely” because while it would be foolish to write Woods off completely the fact is that he has had only one top-10 finish all year – at another favourite venue of his, Torrey Pines, back in January – and I am indebted to the American golf writer Ron Green (no relation!) for pointing out that in six starts since the PGA Tour got underway again after lockdown Tiger has finished a cumulative 102 shots behind the winners of those tournaments. So, no, I won’t be betting on him to match Jack.
As for Bryson DeChambeau, he has had only one outing since he bashed Winged Foot to defeat at the US Open in September. He tied for eighth at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He will by now have presumably upgraded his bombing technique to the extent he will be hitting a wedge into every par-five for his second shot. Last month, Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion, told a podcast about a conversation he’d had with McIlroy and Justin Thomas.
“I was like this guy has to lose the Masters to not win the Masters.” Put another way, he wins if he doesn’t get in his own way. Of course, that doesn’t mean Spieth is right. On the other hand, the ‘Mad Scientist’ is the clear favourite. William Hill quote him at 17/2. McIlroy is third favourite at 11-1. (Jon Rahm is 10-1.) Tiger is out at 28-1, hardly an outsider but certainly an odds outlier compared to the days of his pomp and glory. Which is the goal for Rory.
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