McIlroy, Dustin, Spieth among Favourites to Win 2017 Golf’s First Major

0

Augusta National. The Green Jacket. Amen Corner. The manicured fairways. The blooming azaleas. Unmistakably, the Masters.

Golf’s first major of the year is upon us, with the world’s finest players making their annual pilgrimage to one of sport’s most iconic venues, Augusta National Golf Club.

The first tee shot will be hit at 13:00 BST this afternoon with a field of 94 men aiming to sink the winning putt come Sunday.

World number one Dustin Johnson and Northern Ireland’s four-time major winner Rory McIlroy head the field in the year’s first major.

Plenty of people are backing Dustin Johnson to win his first Green Jacket – and it is clear why he is the favourite.

He is the current world number one, seems to be at his peak physically and mentally, and cannot stop winning.

The American, 32, has been head and shoulders above his rivals over the past nine months, winning his third successive tournament when he beat exciting Spanish prospect Jon Rahm in the World Match Play final in late March.

That means he has won seven of the 17 tournaments he has played since claiming his first major at the US Open at Oakmont in June, racking up another seven top-10 finishes in the process.
However, Johnson remains cautious – perhaps wise when the man considered the favourite has not won the Green Jacket since Tiger Woods in 2005.

“Golf is a funny game, it doesn’t matter how good you are playing you can still not win,” he said.
“If I want to win here then everything is going to have to go well for me.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game now with how I’ve been playing over the past few weeks.”
Jordan Spieth is expected to be among Johnson’s main rivals as he looks to banish memories of last year’s spectacular final-day collapse by winning his second Masters.

The American, 23, led by five shots as he approached the 10th at Augusta on the Sunday, only to dramatically drop six shots in three holes and allow England’s Danny Willett to take advantage.

“No matter what happens at this year’s Masters, whether I can grab the jacket back or I miss the cut or I finish 30th, it will be nice having this Masters go by,” he said earlier this month.
“The Masters lives on for a year. It brings a non-golf audience into golf. And it will be nice once this year has finished to be brutally honest.”

Spieth has dropped to sixth in the world rankings since his Masters meltdown, but did claim his first PGA Tour title since May when he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last month.

World number three Jason Day will play at Augusta after pulling out of a recent tournament to spend time with his mother, who has been treated for lung cancer.

The Australian, 29, broke down in tears after withdrawing from the WGC Match Play a fortnight ago.
“There’s been a lot of things go on this year that have been somewhat distracting to my golf,” he said.

“Golf was the last thing that I was ever thinking about when this first came about. I’m in a much better place now.
“I feel happier to be on the golf course and enjoying myself out here a lot more than I was the last month or two.”

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama is bidding to become the first Asian player to win the Masters, having risen to fourth in the world after a stellar finish to the 2016 season.

The 25-year-old ended last year with four victories in five tournaments – finishing second in the other – but has not been able to recapture the form in recent weeks.

“I’m really not hitting it as well as I would like, so whether or not my confidence level is where it should be, I’m not sure,” said Matsuyama, who finished fifth in the 2015 Masters and shared seventh place last year.

Will McIlroy complete the ‘Rory Slam’?
That is the question golf aficionados have been asking since McIlroy won the 2014 Open Championship at Hoylake.

The Northern Irishman steps on to Augusta’s first tee today at 18:41 BST aiming to become only the sixth man to win all four majors.
He is seeking a first Masters title following victories at the US Open, the Open Championship and the US PGA Championship.

Winning the Green Jacket would propel the 27-year-old into exalted company alongside Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player and Ben Hogan.

And, after three consecutive top-10 finishes at Augusta, the world number two has made no secret that finally sealing victory is his main priority.

“I don’t feel like I can fly under the radar anymore, but at the same time it has been nice to just go about my business and try to get ready for this tournament,” McIlroy said.
“I’ve realised that the more I can get comfortable with this golf course and the club as a whole, the better.

“The more I can just play the golf course and almost make it seem like second nature to me, the better.”
When the fourth home nations golfer followed in the footsteps of Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam to win the Masters, most expected it would be Rory McIlroy slipping into the iconic wool jacket. Instead it was Danny Willett.

The Englishman, playing in only his second Masters, was three shots adrift of Spieth going into Sunday’s final round last year, but was catapulted to victory thanks to a superb five-under-par 67 and the Texan’s meltdown.

What made his triumph even more remarkable was his participation at Augusta had been in doubt.
His wife Nicole was due to give birth on the final day, with only the early arrival of baby Zachariah allowing him to play.

“It’s going to be awesome to go back as defending champion,” he said in BBC documentary When Danny Won the Masters.

“I can’t wait to take part in all the things you get to take part in, the par three competition, the champion’s dinner and see all the other people who’ve won that golf tournament who are still there to be able to enjoy it with you.

“It is something that you can’t buy in life. You can only earn and the fact that I’ve earned is going to be something pretty special.”

However, Willett has since struggled to match his form over those four days at Augusta.
He rose to a career-high ranking of ninth in the world following his maiden major, but has dropped to 17th after managing just four top-10 finishes in the past 12 months.
“The game is not far away,” said the 29-year-old Yorkshireman.

“Our run of form obviously has been nowhere near what it was last year and nowhere near what some of the other guys are playing.”