In-form McIlroy chasing history as 83rd Masters begins

11 April 2019 - 16:10 By AFP
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia.
Image: David Cannon/Getty Images

The 83rd Masters teed off on Thursday with in-form Rory McIlroy chasing a victory that would make him just the sixth player to complete golf’s career Grand Slam.

McIlroy has come up short in four prior attempts to win a Masters green jacket to go with his British Open, US Open and PGA Championship trophies.

But the 29-year-old is the odds-makers’ choice after a blistering start to 2019, in which his seven top-10 finishes in seven starts include a victory in the US PGA Tour’s prestigious Players Championship. It was McIlroy’s 24th professional win, and his first in a year.

While expectations are high, McIlroy insists he’s not putting too much pressure on himself to fill the gap in his major resume.

“I would dearly love to win this tournament one day,” said McIlroy, who was due to tee off at 11:15 am (1515 GMT) alongside American Rickie Fowler and Australian Cameron Smith.

“If it doesn’t happen this week, that’s totally fine. I’ll come back next year and have another crack at it.”

McIlroy’s dominant form this season has put his bid for golf history front and center this week, but a wealth of contenders also includes four-time Masters winner Tiger Woods.

The 43-year-old superstar hasn’t added to his tally of 14 major titles since his 2008 US Open triumph. But he capped his comeback season in 2018 with a victory in the US PGA Tour Championship and contended in two majors last year.

“I’ve proven that I can do it,” said Woods, was due to tee off at 11:04 in a group with Spain’s Jon Rahm and China’s Li Haotong.

Pre-tournament rain will have the course playing long on Thursday — an advantage for big hitters including McIlroy, world number two Dustin Johnson and two-time reigning US Open champion Brooks Koepka.

But Augusta National’s high-tech SubAir system that sucks moisture out of the greens will no doubt insure that the daunting putting surfaces will still have plenty of bite.

Johnson will open his campaign at 1:38 pm in a group with fellow American Bryson DeChambeau and Australian Jason Day.

Koepka was in the final group at 2 pm with England’s Paul Casey and 2015 champion Jordan Spieth — who is hoping a return to Augusta, where he has never finished worse than 11th in five prior starts, will help turn around a tepid season.

The late starters also included world number one Justin Rose of England, who tees off in the penultimate group with three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas.

Mickelson, who needs only a US Open title to complete a career Grand Slam himself, was well aware of the difficulties McIlroy faces at Augusta.

“It’s a challenge when you put so much emphasis on winning a particular event, but it’s also a chance to bring out your best,” Mickelson said.

“He’s had such a phenomenal start to the year, been playing with such great consistency week-in week-out, I think contending will be a given. “He’ll be in contention,” Mickelson said. “You just need those little breaks, little things to happen that push you over the winner’s circle.”