McIlroy’s first attempt to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods in winning all four major titles ended in noble failure as he finished fourth in 2015, his 12-under-par total having only been bettered four times since 2000. McIlroy was also just one shot off the halfway lead in 2016, but dropped out of contention with a third round of 77. The 28-year-old was seventh last year without ever being in the frame but will arrive at Augusta National on a high after his brilliant victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. A fast start could be crucial.
Woods has only played the Masters once in the last four years, has not won at Augusta National since 2005 and his last major title came in 2008.
Tiger Woods at the Masters.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 2, 2018
But his remarkable recovery from spinal fusion surgery means the 42-year-old is vying for the favourite’s tag along with the likes of McIlroy and world number one Dustin Johnson. Winning a fifth green jacket would be a fairytale way to set the seal on one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history and recent form on the PGA Tour suggest Woods will be in contention come Sunday afternoon.
Since Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley won the last two majors of 2011 when ranked 111th and 108th in the world respectively, the lowest-ranked winner of any major has been Jimmy Walker, who was 48th when he won the 2016 US PGA Championship. In 2017, Sergio Garcia was ranked 11th before his Masters victory, Brooks Koepka 22nd ahead of the US Open, Jordan Spieth third before the Open and Justin Thomas 14th ahead of the US PGA. Woods is just outside the world’s top 100.
Danny Willett’s win in 2016 was the first by a European player since Jose Maria Olazabal’s second victory in 1999, a stark contrast to the time when Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, and Olazabal enjoyed unrivalled success at Augusta. However, while Willett’s form and fitness has since suffered a dramatic slump, he was succeeded as Masters champion by Garcia following his play-off victory over Justin Rose, who is one of a number of strong contenders to make it a European hat-trick.
Speaking of Rose, the former US Open champion must be wondering if he will ever get his hands on a green jacket after his recent experiences at Augusta. Rose’s 14-under-par total in 2015 is the joint lowest ever by a runner-up, while in 2017 he was denied by a combination of an inspired Garcia on the back nine of the final round and a costly bogey on the 71st hole of regulation. The 37-year-old has recorded 12 top-10s in his last 14 events worldwide.
Only Nicklaus, Woods, and Nick Faldo have won back-to-back Masters titles and the chances of Garcia doing the same would appear slim. Before last year’s win he had managed just one top-10 at Augusta in his previous 12 starts and even claimed in 2012 that he was not good enough to win a major. Having proved himself wrong, Garcia should be able to play with more freedom in the big events, but his focus may well be elsewhere after the birth of his daughter — appropriately named Azalea after the 13th hole at Augusta — recently.