AUGUSTA: Top-ranked Jason Day, defending champion Jordan Spieth, career Grand Slam seeker Rory McIlroy and a host of elite rivals have sparked an exceptional level of excitement for the 80th Masters.
A field of 89 tee off today at the Augusta National in quest of the green jacket awarded a Masters champion, but only one will slide their arms inside the sleeves come Sunday.
Australia’s Day comes off triumphs at Bay Hill and the WGC Match Play. Northern Ireland’s McIlroy has found his form at just the right moment and American Spieth’s record-tying wire-to-wire win from last year still resonates in the Georgia pines.
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Add Aussie Adam Scott, twice a winner last month, plus fourth-ranked Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champion, 2015 Players winner Rickie Fowler and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson and the stage is set for a showdown on golf’s most acclaimed course.
“I would enjoy a Spieth-McIlroy-Fowler-Scott-Watson-Mickelson Sunday,” said Day. “That would be a lot of fun.”
Day has won six of his past 13 events, including his first major title at last year’s PGA Championship, to overtake Spieth as world number one. “I feel comfortable with where I’m at, walking around the grounds, number one in the world, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “But I know I can’t take it for granted, because things can change pretty quickly.”
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Day is trying to become only the fifth player to win the PGA in one year and the Masters in the next to join Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead.
McIlroy, meanwhile, is on hand to capture a fifth major title and complete a career Grand Slam at age 26, joining Nicklaus, Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen in having won all four majors.
“It’s definitely a motivation to be able to put your name alongside those five guys,” said McIlroy. “I haven’t been in a situation where I’ve felt the pressure of it, because I didn’t have a real chance to win last year.”
Spieth will try to become the first back-to-back Masters winner since Tiger Woods in 2002, who is skipping this year’s event because he has not fully recovered from back surgery last year.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2016.
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