Golf

Masters: Nick Dougherty hoping for a McIlroy Slam, but American challenge is strong

Can the British and Irish challengers upstage a powerful home contingent at the Masters this week? Nick Dougherty explains the magnitude of that challenge …

Only four British golfers have made the trip to the Butler Cabin to be presented with a Green Jacket, so what are the chances of making that a “famous five” this week?

Tyrrell Hatton certainly has great form coming into the Masters, but his record at Augusta National isn’t the best. In three appearances, he’s yet to crack the top 40, but he’s in great shape to improve on that this week.

He’s been tipped by many to lead the British challenge, but I’d lean towards the more experienced players in the field. Lee Westwood has had a great year and still hasn’t given up hope of winning that elusive major, and I’m expecting a good week for Justin Rose.

He hasn’t had the best of years and has slipped to 28th in the world rankings, but he’s got a cracking record at Augusta. Runner-up twice, including that play-off defeat to Sergio Garcia in 2017, three other top-10 finishes and he’ll be determined to atone for his first missed cut in the tournament last year.

As strong as the British and Irish challenge is, the Americans are looking pretty formidable right now. Dustin Johnson looked in great form last week in Houston, Patrick Cantlay beat a very strong field at the Zozo Championship, and Xander Schauffele has not finished outside the top-25 in his last 11 starts and went so close to Masters glory last year.

There are so many home players to get past even before you add tournament-favourite Bryson DeChambeau into the mix, so it’s going to be really tough for the British contingent to emulate Lyle, Faldo, Woosnam and Willett.

There’s no doubt they’re capable, they’ve all got big golf games and Augusta always offers the opportunity to step out from the crowd and put in an inspired performance. But it needs something extra special to get across the line here.

One thing in favour of the less-experienced players this week could be the absence of patrons. Any major championship is ramped up by an atmosphere that can be so big, powerful and often overwhelming for the uninitiated – and no more so than at Augusta National.

The roars from outside the ropes echo around the property, adding to the stress, expectation and piling the pressure on the players, who are already fully aware that the world is watching.

This year, it will be peace and quiet for the most part, and Sunday’s final round could feel a little eerie. Collin Morikawa won the PGA Championship, playing in only his second major, and insisted it was much easier to get the job done without spectators being in close proximity.

So maybe that’ll give more players a better opportunity at the Masters. Whatever the case, if we are to see another Brit don the Green Jacket, they’re likely to need some serious distance off the tee this week, with the course set to play wet, soft and long.

One player who has never had a distance problem is Rory McIlroy, and as much as I’d love to see him complete the Grand Slam of major titles, I’m not sure it will be this year.

Rory is more “under the radar” this week with so much attention directed at Bryson, and he’s said he’s happy to not be the main focus ahead of the one major that eludes his collection.

After he won the third leg of the Grand Slam at The Open in 2014, he finished in the top 10 in each of the next four Masters tournaments, although he lost his way a little last year and managed only a tie for 21st. But he’s generally been fantastic, and clearly one of the premier players at Augusta over the last 10 years.

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To win on Tour is hard, to win a major is substantially harder, and to win the one major you haven’t yet won is even harder! Rory has done a pretty good job of having a go at it, it just hasn’t happened for him at the Masters … yet!

We have to remember that only five men in the history of the sport have won all four majors, but you cannot write off his chances on a course, and in conditions, which are very favourable for Rory McIlroy.

He closed out the Zozo Championship with a 66, so that gives him encouragement that there is some good stuff happening in his game, and being more under the radar than in recent years can only help him in his quest for history.

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