Can Rory complete his collection?
Rory McIlroy – at 6.40 in the market to win the US Masters - heads to Augusta this year with an added incentive as he bids to become the first player to complete the Major Grand Slam by the age of 25. Rory's major journey ignited in 2011 where he held the 54 hole lead at Augusta, and things were going well until the Northern Irishman came towards Amen Corner on the Sunday. A triple bogey seven on hole number 10 instigated a back nine collapse, and McIlroy has been on a mission to put things right ever since.
The youngster bounced back in Style with a blitzing of the US Open field the very same year and consigned major number one to the history books. He followed up with victory at the PGA Championship in 2012, and added another replica Wanamaker Trophy to his resume last year. The 25 year old also completed a lifetime ambition by picking up the Claret Jug in 2014. "It feels incredible," McIlroy said. "It wasn't easy - there were a few guys making runs at me and I just needed to stay focused. To win three legs of the Grand Slam at 25 is a pretty big achievement."
With just one leg to go to complete the remarkable feat, the world no. 1 has endured somewhat of a stop-start season in 2015. Already a winner on the European Tour at the Dubai Desert Classic, Rory has also been in involved in off course events including a court case with his former management company, Horizon. That's now been settled and McIlroy has his sights fully focused on Augusta.
Last week saw an up and down outing at Doral in the WGC Cadillac Championship which culminated in a top 10 finish. Now with his main objective of 2015 in the forefront of his mind, Rory heads down Magnolia Lane for some behind closed doors prep: ‘To be honest, Augusta National is probably even nicer without the crowds than it is during the Masters, so it’s going to be a great experience,’ he said, when referring to an organised practice and R&R session with his dad, NFL star Tom Brady and Augusta Club member and specialist Jeff Knox.
Mr. Knox marked Rory's card last year at Augusta on the Saturday when McIlroy was the first out following an odd numbered cut. Rory said that his playing partner and marker's performance on the greens was the best he's seen at Augusta and he's looking to pick Knox's brains as he seeks out every edge possible this year. Jeff actually holds the members record of 61 at Augusta, albeit on a much easier set up than the pros face on tournament week.
Standing in the way of McIlroy and his grand Slam aspirations are some huge names, many of whom are peaking form-wise in the lead up to the season's first major. The biggest threat to Rory's potentially impending feat is surely big event specialist Jason Day - 16.00. Jason got over the line for win number three on the PGA Tour in the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year. This was a major type test at a US Open style venue in a tough field, where Jason was the last man standing. Day makes no secret that the Augusta National course sets up perfectly for him and he's already been a runner up at The Masters. The Aussie is coveting the no. 1 spot in the world and if McIlroy finishes ahead of him, the Irishman's name may just be on the trophy.
Two guys that featured at the WGC Cadillac Championship last week on a Doral track set up for the bombers were Bubba Watson - 12.50 - and eventual winner Dustin Johnson. Bubba took down the WGC HSBC Champions event at the back of 2014 and has begun this season in fine form with a near miss in Phoenix, and he was pipped at the post by DJ last week. Watson is an Augusta specialist where he says "everything just fits" and the enigmatic American looks to make it a Masters' hattrick in April.
Dustin Johnson - 19.00 - looks better than ever after his six month hiatus from the PGA Tour. New father DJ says life is great at home and he has a different perspective now on his return to the tour. A hugely impressive come-from-behind win at Doral was preceded by a T4 at Pebble Beach and a runner up finish at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open. Johnson is now seeing a lot of money for Augusta after his most recent success and could well be a contender for the famous green jacket down the stretch come Masters' Sunday.