Familiar brief for Woods and McIlroy at Augusta National
The American is chasing a first major since 2008, while the Northern Irishman has another shot at a career grand slam.
Fittingly for the only major championship which is staged on the same course every year, the storylines for the 83rd Masters have a familiar air.
Can Rory McIlroy triumph at Augusta National to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in completing a career grand slam?
Will Woods win his first major title since the 2008 US Open and a first green jacket since 2005 to complete one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time?
Or can the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler or Paul Casey continue the trend for first-time major winners at Augusta? Since 1986, only four players – Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh and Angel Cabrera – have claimed a green jacket having previously won one of the other majors.
McIlroy will be hoping that is not the case and can hardly have asked to enjoy any better preparation for what is his fifth attempt to join golf’s most elite club, following five consecutive top-six finishes on the PGA Tour with victory in the Players Championship.
The 29-year-old has also finished inside the top 10 on each of his last five starts at Augusta National and was in the last group in the final round 12 months ago, only to struggle to a closing 74 and end up six shots behind playing partner Patrick Reed.
McIlroy has made an unfortunate habit of what one reporter characterised as “elimination rounds” and admitted his 77 in the last group in the third round in 2016 was a classic example of a failure in patience and resolve.
However, McIlroy believes that will not happen this time thanks to a combination of juggling and meditation which he explained in an unusual pre-tournament press conference.
“I’m not going to go and live with the monks for a couple months in Nepal, it’s 10 minutes a day,” McIlroy said. “It’s not as if I’m being consumed by it.
“But it’s definitely something that has helped from time to time. Especially in situations where you need your mind to be right. I meditated for 20 minutes on the Sunday morning of the Players.”
Woods did not go anywhere near as far in his press conference but there was also a semblance of a different demeanour from the 43-year-old.
“I don’t really need to win again,” Woods said before smiling widely and adding: “I really want to.”
Millions of the 14-time major winner’s fans would no doubt love to see that happen, but while he ranks ninth in strokes gained from tee to green on the PGA Tour, a category led by McIlroy, Woods is a lowly 74th in strokes gained putting and McIlroy 57th.
Both men do at least have the potential advantage of a morning start on Thursday, with the wind forecast to gust up to 20mph after 4pm, when the likes of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, world number one Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka will all be approaching the back nine.
Possible thunderstorms on Sunday could throw in an added complication and even lead to the first Monday finish since Seve Ballesteros won his second green jacket in 1983, but if McIlroy or Woods are in contention there will be few complaints.