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Chasing pack target Woods and McIlroy

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Rob Hodgetts | 22:39 UK time, Tuesday, 3 April 2012

If you are after a good, clean fight between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy at the Masters you may be disappointed.

Not so much that they might not perform, more that they could be just two combatants in a gang scrap.

"Tiger v Rory - the only story in golf," screamed Sports Illustrated this week. It's a juicy headline and the parallels make it a compelling tale. Prodigies, only children, record-setting first major titles as young men. One hoping for greatness, the other redemption (I'll let you work out which).

But in golf you can only play your ball. So if someone else fancies a pop, there's nothing you can do about it. And there are plenty who consider themselves hard enough to have a go, beginning with the world number one.

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Luke Donald understands the two-horse hype but insists, at least publicly, that it won't give him extra motivation.

"I have my own thing that motivates me. I'm not sure that's one of them," says Donald. "Tiger is always the guy that pushes the needle the most and Rory gets a lot of attention now. For me that's probably a good thing. I can kind of go about my own business.

"I think it's a little naive to say that there are only two that have a chance to win around here."

Lee Westwood is another who may well mutter a private, "I'll show 'em", in the same way Jack Nicklaus did when a newspaper claimed he was "washed up" before his sixth Green Jacket in 1986.

"Rory hasn't won here. Tiger hasn't won since 2005," said Westwood, who went so close in 2010. "I think Phil [Mickelson], might have a little bit of something to say about that. Luke might. I might."

Woods is well used to the scrutiny, and threw into the mix the fact that he might be playing as well as he was during his most dominant period in 2000.

McIlroy, wary of getting ahead of himself, is keen to deflect the attention.

"You have to remember there's 80 plus players in this field," he said. "It's nice to be getting all this praise but you have to take it with a pinch of salt. I don't have the achivements that Tiger has, but I'm looking forward to getting in contention and maybe coming up against maybe the best player ever."

The 22-year-old, whose game so publicly disintegrated in the final round last year, returns as the US Open champion and a "better and more experienced" player.

"I think one of the things I learned was that as a person and as a golfer I wasn't ready to win the Masters," he said.

But McIlroy has moved on. He laughed when he admitted he hadn't realised how close to the tee the cabin was that he nearly hit with that disastrous tee shot on the 10th in the final round.

He chuckled when his phone rang during his press conference. "Sorry, no phones at Augusta," he grinned.

He was open and honest when he talked about crying on the phone to his mum following his unravelling. He talked fondly of how pleased he was to have dad Gerry back here with him this week.

And he revealed how he was comforted by Greg Norman's kind words. Norman, after all, lost a six-shot lead in 1996.

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If there is any scarring from 12 months ago it is well hidden. McIlroy insists he will go back to being himself this week, albeit a more mature version, rather than a young man striving too hard for perfection last year.

But he is not the only one to have arrived at this conclusion. Donald, who has won five times in 14 months, said: "Four of them I thought I didn't play my best and I still managed to win. That was important. Knowing that just playing my game is good enough is a good thought to have."

Donald and Westwood, of course, are still encumbered by the burden of trying to win a major title. Mickelson, on the other hand, says after his breakthrough Masters title in 2004, that he plays pressure-free and is excited about trying to join Woods and Arnold Palmer on four Masters titles.

But Mickelson believes the damp conditions this week may throw the tournament wide open.

"It's wet around the greens and there's no fear of the course," he said. "You've got to attack. Unless something changes, and hopefully they will be able to use SubAir [the sub-surface drying system], it's going to be a birdie-fest.

"If it plays like this I think we'll see a crowded leaderboard. But if the greens get quicker I think we will see some of the young players make mistakes that will cost them the tournament and the experienced players who position the ball properly and vary their risk-reward shot-making will have an easier time staying at the top."

Defending champion Charl Schwartzel defied the odds to emerge from the pack on a crazy afternoon 12 months and says believing you can win is half the battle.

Woods and McIlroy might just find there are plenty of others with similar beliefs on Sunday.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Golf is such a hard sport to predict, getting into the minds of those players, Woods and McIlroy often seem like their own worst enemy. It's that outsider mentality that can often be effective, not really ever thinking you have a chance, just playing along, then all of a sudden you are in with a shout, and you don't feel the pressure because everything then seems like a bonus.
    But then thats the media's fault, that one headline sums it all up really. Before either one of them hit a ball they have such pressure to do well on their shoulders. Woods is certainly IMO the greatest golfer of all time, and if he believes in that again, he could start winning those majors again.

  • Comment number 2.

    This ain't about Tiger and Rory as much as I love all the hype and I am sure that both will be thereabouts come Sunday afternoon, the media likes all the hype about he said she said as Poulter puts it. It adds excitement and it gets up the back of other golfers who don't agree and post interesting comments. It will come down to consistency in hitting the fairway and onto the greens and some good putting, experience gives a lot of advantages as Phil puts it the young guns will need to control their puts and hitting, this will be as it always has been, golf management around Augusta, you have to be patient and take what is given to you and not worry about the previous bad shot you may have made to get birdie or par. Woods is very good at this, but he needs to post at least 3 good rounds and a not so bad a round to be in the hunt on Sunday, winning at Bay Hill a couple of weeks ago, does not suggest that he will win, it just means that the hunter will be hunted.

  • Comment number 3.

    Why all the sudden interest in Golf and writing blogs now Rob? Where have you been all year? Jumping on the Masters bandwagon? your no Iain Carter.

  • Comment number 4.

    3.
    At 07:51 4th Apr 2012, BiloMcT wrote:

    Why all the sudden interest in Golf and writing blogs now Rob? Where have you been all year? Jumping on the Masters bandwagon? your no Iain Carter.


    IDIOT!

  • Comment number 5.

    Bill calm down its the masters and be happy with the additional blogs.
    Rob another good blog shame you don't blog every week,your right a lot of players have the potential to win. I bet a few are glad of the Rory tiger show so they can get on with thier business without the press

  • Comment number 6.

    3. - "I spend most of my time as a news editor or managing the front page of the BBC Sport website" - Does that not answer your question?

    Anyway, hoping for a British winner this time at the masters - refreshing to see so much homegrown talent around. Personally hoping to see Justin Rose in the green jacket; nice guy playing some great golf.

  • Comment number 7.

    ludicrous claim by Sports Illustrated. Having said that, Rory and Tiger will, no doubt, be right in the mix at the top. There are so many potential winners of this tournament. The odds reflect that, Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley (who I think all have a shot) all at 33-1, the likes of Kaymer at 66-1.

    really hoping for a British winner. As I mentioned on one of the countless other blogs (not complaining!) leading up to Masters, really hoping for a Luke Donald win to quieten the naysayers who believe he isn't a true number one without a major title.

    Whatever happens, though, it's gonna be one hell of a weekend!

  • Comment number 8.

    I love the hype and expectation of events like this and then the realism of golf when someone comes out of the blue and wins!!!!

    I just hope that the TV coverage doesn't follow the hype and all we see is Tiger this, and Tiger that all weekend. PLEASE show us some golf? Tiger or Rory walking to the practice ground/11th tee/toilet is of no interest...

    I'm still hoping for a Donald/Westwood shootout on day four

  • Comment number 9.

    Its all gone Bloggledegook. Anyway, as always the press get over-excited about a certain few players when often it is the unsung players who end up winning. So, this week, expect Sergio Garcia to finally win a major.

  • Comment number 10.

    Couldn't agree more with 9. Garflyabout how Tiger/Rory will be covered by US TV but I fear we will be disappointed unless they both implode which is unlikely. For a golf fan, you certainly see a lot more actual golf when Tiger is not in the field, though that's not his fault.

    As for this week, I feel it's wide open though for betting purposes there's no value with Woods or McIlroy when you can get decent odds on quality players like Mahan etc. From a UK perspective I would like to see Rose actually string 4 good rounds together here for once instead of his usual friday or saturday blow out and if he does he can certainly win. Donald will undoubtedly win a major but whether it's now remains to be seen. I would love to see Westwood win and he is certainly capable of it but he seems to have bottle issues in final rounds the last few years which is strange given he has been such a prolific winner in the past. I hope he proves me wrong though.

  • Comment number 11.

    I am almost gobsmacked that your "experts" and comments on this subject have failed even to mention a top golfer in Hunter Mahan(now 4th in the World Rankings), World Matchplay Champion and Houston Open winner. Hunter has,technically about the soundest swing in all of golf and a virtually unmatched temperament. It is Hunter who most of all is THE form "horse"" in the field!

  • Comment number 12.

    I hope poor Luke and Lee dont get themselves into contention then choke and bottle it like they have being doing their whole careers. I would love to see Luke take a major before he becomes Lee (Monty) Westwoods age.

  • Comment number 13.

    Mickelson, Rory and Bradley will battle it out - Donald and Tiger to try valiant comebacks on the last day. Westwood will see many opportunities slip by the cup and Schwartzel will enjoy 4 days as champion. Rose to lead after day 1 and then disappear, Mahan to falter around the greens, Kaymer won't show and Paul Casey will hole-in-one the 16th. Larry Mize to win the playoff with a chip from 140 feet... hang on, that already happened.

  • Comment number 14.

    @11 Boanerges146 - Ben Dirs wrote a blog, specifically on Hunter Mahan.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bendirs/2012/04/mahan_well_in_the_hunt.html

    As I mentioned in my post earlier as well, I believe Mahan to be right in the mix, and will be putting a flutter on him at 33-1.

  • Comment number 15.

    Heres a tip for ye all...Harrington 100-1!
    Ya heard it here first!

  • Comment number 16.

    @15 - even better, how about Martin Laird at 150\1!!
    Ya heard it here first!
    (maybe something to do with me being Scottish ?!?!)

  • Comment number 17.

    I just hope come the end of Saturday that Phils comments that this course is set up to be a birdie fest due to the slow greens, does not materialise. Majors are not meant to be birdie friendly, it is a test of ones golf management around a difficult course. I can't see that happening at Augusta, it will be fair, but daunting. I don't expect the winner to be 20 under, more like 12 under. I am enjoying these comments though.

  • Comment number 18.

    Luke Donald has yet to really contend in a major. He seems to play his best golf when he's too far back to win - hence all the top 10 finishes. Until that changes, and I hope it does, it is hard to justify his world no. 1 status. Particularly when you look at the previous holders of that accolade.
    Woods and Mickelson are streets ahead of the rest when it comes to past form at Augusta (usually a good pointer to the likely winner - see current bookies' odds). Both have already won on the PGA tour this year. McIlroy and Mahan the next most likely to get the Green Jacket from Schwartzel on Sunday. Unless he defends his title (45/1?)

  • Comment number 19.

    Cannot wait for tomorrow. Absolutely love the masters.

    In terms of betting, I tend to do my research & choose players with great value odds, together with who's game suits Augusta, bent greens & torrey pine specialists & recent form. Obviously it is still pot luck, but this has served me well in the past.
    I won £350 last year on Schwartzel winning along with Day placed.

    Here are my seven tips.

    1. STEVE STRICKER.A lot of people think that Stricker isn't long enough to succeed at Augusta, but that's totally unfounded. He out-drove eventual winner Charl Schwartzel last year at Augusta and can easliy reach 300 yards with the driver when required. 55/1 is great odds for a man whose best chance of a Major will come in America. His record of key Augusta links courses are not too shabby either..Kapalua (1st 2012), Riviera (1st 2010), Redstone (3rd 06 & 4th 11), Quail Hollow (2nd 07 behind Woods), Colonial (1st 09), Muirfield (1st 11), Congressional (2nd 07), TPC Boston (Win 09) and East Lake (6th 09). Not too bad hey. Par 5's are key at Augusta & Stricker is currently 2nd on the PGA Tour par 5 birdie or better category, and was 3rd in 2011. He will be there come Sunday.

    2.BILL HAAS. I look at Bill Haas as a very similar player to Justin Rose. Ok, he may not have the same form coming in,but at 100/1; for me, offers better value that Justin. He drives the ball beautifully, and his game fits Augusta perfectly unlike some of the guys above him in the rankings.. He has a great short game, is a great scrambler & offers a decent shout for the tipster.His record doesn't ooze too much confidence with T42, T26, but that is reflective of the odds. He is great value @ 100/1.

    3.GEOFF OGILVY. I got this guy at 100/1. Seriously? This is a guy who came T4th last year. He has made 6 out of 6 cuts at Augusta, including two top 20 finishes with 5 top 10 finishes at Majors. Write Geoff off at your peril.

    4.RICKY FOWLER. He has been seriously underestimated by the bookmakers this year. Ok, that is reflected on the fact he hasn't won a PGA Tour event to date, but don't be surprised if his first trophy comes this week at Augusta. His record on tougher classical tracks that link in solidly with Augusta: Torrey Pines - 13th(12), 20th(11), 5th 10) Quail Hollow - 16th(11),6th (10) Muirfield 2nd(10) Firestone – 2nd(11).Come Sun, he will b there.

    5.JASON DUFNER. He has been Mr consistent this year. He just strolls along but has the game to achieve greatness at Augusta. He has 4 top-15 finishes to his name in 2012 and seems to be a player who saves his best golf for the big occasion. 125/1. Yes please.

    6.KJ Choi. He has a decent record at Augusta. Last year finishing T8th, & the year before T4th. He has only ever missed two cuts in 9 attempts. Choi is at home at Augusta & seems to just progress without anyone noticing. He is deceptively powerful of the tee, along with acurracy; his game fits well at Augusta.

    7. R ISHIKAWA. Right, ridiculous odds after his late invitation of 225/1. His form this year has been improving with each appearance. With T17 at WGC Matchplay, followed with a 2nd place finish at the Puerto Rico Open. Having finished a solid T20 here last year, he offers great value at a huge price.

  • Comment number 20.

    I have a feeling that Luke Donald could finally sneak up there and take the green jacket. Of course, this requires that Woods and Mcillroy don't feed off each other and push the birdie count off theregister in the first 2 days. If Mckilroy and Woods are 5 shots clear by saturday, don't be suprised, to see Luke Donald pull off some sedat play to move him closer. He doesn't have to beat the Big Two, they can do that themselves. Quiet and consistent ahould be enough this year.

 

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