Chasing pack target Woods and McIlroy
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.
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.
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.