AUGUSTA, Ga. — As the golf world enters this year’s Masters it could not ask for a better entrance from its top performers.
Tiger Woods is coming off a deep run in last month’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he beat Rory McIlroy, this year’s Masters favorite, in the round of 16.
McIlroy comes in off an impressive win at golf’s "fifth major," The Players Championship last month. Other big names enter this week with recent wins include three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson (February’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and Dustin Johnson (February’s WGC-Mexico Championship) just to name a couple.
Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava, who’s caddied for multiple decades at Augusta, is impressed with the form of this year’s favorites.
“Eight or 10 of the top players are playing well at the same time, I think it’s fantastic,” LaCava said.
“I think Tiger’s playing well, Rory’s playing good, Phil, DJ, Justin Thomas, Rahm, Jason Day. Everyone’s playing well.”
Woods played the front nine Sunday afternoon with just his wedge and putter.
“Just getting a little feel for the golf course and how it’s playing,” Woods said.
The four-time champ played the back nine Monday morning.
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McIlroy is the one player walking the famed and incredibly sloping fairways this week who has a chance to complete the career grand slam should he win this event.
The Northern Irishman, who’s playing his final major in his 20s, has often said he thought he would win The Masters first of all the majors, but it’s proven agonizingly elusive for the four-time major winner.
This year marks his fifth attempt to complete the slam.
What’s different this year?
Winning golf’s biggest championship outside the majors is a great start. The Players Championship just moved from May to March this year, and McIlroy took full advantage of it.
What does he need to do to have a good week?
“I just need to keep doing what I’m doing, continue to play well, have a good mindset, focus on the things that I can do like good thought processes, good preparation, staying in the moment, putting forth my best effort each and every time I get over the ball, all of that,” McIlroy told The Gazette.
“If I just keep doing that, keep persisting, and keep chipping away at all of those things then hopefully at the end of the week it all adds up to a good result.”
McIlroy is the betting favorite to win this year.
A brilliant 65 during last year’s third round placed him in Sunday’s final pairing, but he ultimately faded into a tie for fifth with a 2-over 74 on that Sunday.
As far as strategy, McIlroy suggests to look at the four par 5s (16 for the week) and “you’re going to want to at least birdie half of them or 10 of them,” McIlroy said.
The 29-year-old understandably sees his length off the tee as an advantage at Augusta, but he doesn’t think it is as much so on the par 5s but on other holes.
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“Where you do need to have your length is on some of these long par 4s,” McIlroy said. “No. 5 they’ve lengthened (to 495 yards), and the fourth hole, the par 3, is a really long one for a par 3.”
Another top favorite who’s been excruciatingly close at past Masters, and who is in search of a strong finish is England’s Justin Rose.
Rose lost in a playoff to Sergio Garcia in 2017 and finished tied for second behind 21-year-old winner Jordan Spieth in 2015.
“I know what it feels and tastes like to be right there (at Augusta),” Rose told The Gazette. “I’ve all but won it.”
Rose held a one-shot lead through 70 holes after making birdie on the par-3 16th. A late bogey on 17 tied Rose with Garcia, and Rose had a birdie putt on the 72nd hole to take the go-ahead lead, but missed.
Garcia won on the first playoff hole.
Rose understands the gravity of a major like this one, and would dearly love to add to his 2013 U.S. Open in the majors tally.
“I think it would be huge for me to be a multiple major champion,” Rose said. “One is amazing but two is double, twice as good. I think it would make a big difference in my career, how it reads, possibly hall of fame for someone like me who’s kind of had a good career, but certainly to win The Masters changes everything as well.