4/10/2019 1:44:04 PM

McIlroy powers into Masters with Tiger among many poised to pounce

McIlroy powers into Masters with Tiger among many poised to pounce

Augusta, USA: Rory McIlroy is in fearsome form as he arrives at Augusta National chasing a rare career Grand Slam, but a renewed Tiger Woods could have something to say about the Northern Ireland star's bid for a breakthrough Masters win.

"I don't think I've ever started a season this well in terms of finishes, and even stats wise, looking at all my stats, they are right up there with some of the best years that I've had," said McIlroy, whose seven top-10 finishes in seven starts this year include a victory at the US PGA Tour's prestigious Players Championship in March.

He owns top-10 Masters finishes the past four years, including a tie for fifth behind American Patrick Reed last year, and with more than a decade of experience on a course where local know-how is key, says there's no reason he can't become the sixth man to win all four of golf's major professional titles.

"I've shot enough good scores around here over the years that if I can put my best effort forward, I'm going to have a good chance to do well here," McIlroy said.

Plenty of his peers agree.

"Rory is playing unbelievable golf," said Spain's Jon Rahm. "I mean, he's playing the best golf he has played in a long time ... Really good golf and it seems like his putting has been lot better. If Rory is hitting the ball the way he is, and he putts good, he's tough to beat."

Soaking rain on Monday and Tuesday could heighten long-hitting McIlroy's chances, making the course play longer. The diminished practice time could also play in favor of experienced Masters campaigners.

Rahm noted the difficulty of handicapping the first major championship of the year.

Each of the last four winners -- and seven of the last eight -- have been first-time major winners, a trend Rahm certainly hopes to continue.

But with experience at a premium, multiple winners including Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson must always be judged a threat.

World number one Justin Rose and second-ranked Dustin Johnson will be aiming to bulk up resumes highlighted by one US Open win apiece and fourth-ranked Brooks Koepka, the reigning US Open and PGA Champion, has a chance to become the third golfer of the modern era to capture three of four consecutive majors.

"There's so many different ways to do it and there's so many different things that you can do right," Rahm said. "It's one of those weeks where anybody can win at any given point."

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