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Hunt on to catch Tiger

In a world without Tiger Woods there would be plenty of players who would fancy their chances a great deal better at Augusta this week.

Lee Westwood may say that Woods is just another player to beat - and he has lost more times at Augusta than he has won - but deep down no-one relishes the prospect of going down the stretch with him on Sunday evening.

Westwood is at the forefront of a band of European players in danger of finishing their careers without a Major and although he's been around a long time, he has never really been at the sharp end of one.

His form of late has been good enough to take him to the top of the European Order of Merit but he hasn't been able to close out the deal either in Portugal or Spain.

Justin Rose shows he does have the pedigree to win when it counts as he showed at Valderrama with his Volvo Masters win at the end of last season to clinch last year's Order of Merit title.

The fact that he did it despite being based largely in America was down largely to his performances in the Majors which count towards both tours.

As Padraig Harrington brought the long European wait for a Major win to an end with his victory at Carnoustie, the hope was that the floodgates, shut for eight yeas, would finally open.

Not least Harrington himself who immediately made the point that his Open victory should not be the pinnacle of his career.

"I want to go on and win two, three four Major title," he said as he clutched the Claret Jug in Scotland.

He knows there is a world of difference between the one-time wonders such as Todd Hamilton or Shaun Micheel who never even threaten to win a second, and the multiple winners like Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson or Nick Faldo who elevate themselves into the upper echelons of the game.

The key to Harrington's week is going to be his driving from the tee because that has been the area of most concern to him in the past few weeks.

He is good enough with a putter in his hand to cope with Augusta's severe greens and now his has one Major under his belt will feel that much more able to challenge for more.

England's Paul Casey is sure to be in the mix, however, that will mean a steep upturn in Masters form, having completed a tournament best in 2004, finishing tied 6th.

If an American other than Woods is to win it, JB Holmes could be a man to watch. He's the longest off the tee in the field and is riding high in the US Ryder Cup standings.

He was, though, the man who should have put Woods out of the World Match Play in Arizona in February. He was three up with five to play in the first round and still managed to lose - although Woods did play some pretty stunning golf late that day.

He's never contended in a Major but then neither had Zach Johnson, defending champion this week, who plotted his way around Augusta meticulously last year.

Scoring should be significantly better than when Johnson won with a total one over par. Seven or eight under would not be a surprise with a much better forecast this week than last year.

That won't necessarily favour any one player in particular but in general the closer the ball to the undulating greens, especially on the par fives, the better.

Television coverage doesn't start until 9pm on BBC2 this evening, although once again the players' progress around Amen Corner - the 11, 12 and 13th holes - will be streamed live on the official Masters website from the start of the first round today.

Belfast Telegraph

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