Masters 2013: A traditional favourite for a traditional tournament
Masters 2013: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are the clear favourites to win at Augusta. Phil Jones reports
The Masters. Not the most ‘showy‘ of Stateside sporting events.
Lacking the typical razzmatazz, rowdiness and fireworks of the Superbowl or US Open tennis – yet somehow the Masters is still quintessentially American.
Patrons rather than punters, a strict dress code of khaki shorts and polo shirt, spray-painted rough and azaleas as far as the eye can see – we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The three other majors rotate their venues to keep the players on their toes and share the profits of welcoming the world’s best swingers to town.
But the Masters is a spring tradition, the Augusta National course a welcoming sign of the sporting summer to come – it is the familiarity that makes it so special.
And there is a welcome familiarity to the contenders at this weekend’s competition, as the return to form of one man has left no one in any doubt as to the identity of the favourite.
Sports Illustrated couldn’t have put it any better than the cover of this week’s issue: Tiger, shot from behind, with one word emblazoned across the page – BACK.
BACK to world number one, BACK to winning tournaments and BACK to the top of tipsters’ lists.
Consecutive tournament wins in his warm-up events, three wins in total this year and a remodelled swing finally paying dividends, the stage appears set for the youngest-ever Masters winner to pull on a Green Jacket for the first time in eight years.
Drawn to play with England’s Luke Donald and fellow American Scott Piercy for the first two rounds, Woods has avoided the spotlight of having to play with a real contender.
Donald would like to think he has a chance, but unless the former world number one can get over his major meltdowns then Tiger should have a stress-free first couple of days.
His main challenger is expected to be Rory McIlroy, Nike stablemate and pretender to Woods’ crown as the best golfer in a generation.
Yet until last weekend the situation looked very different, a missed cut, a first-round match play exit, a ‘sore tooth’ and two mediocre finishes left the bosses at Nike praying to the gods of the greens for a turnaround in the Ulsterman’s form.
Low and behold, a second-placed finish at the Texas Open, a tournament not even in the 23-year-old’s itinerary until two weeks ago, and McIlroy is second favourite again.
There is no doubt the switch of clubs has had an effect on his game and it appeared to be getting to him as he stormed off the course when +7 for his second round in March’s Honda Classic.
But the shaggy-haired youngster has always been prone to dips in form, last year he missed four cuts from five events.
Then two tournaments later he became the youngest multi-major winner since the great Seve Ballesteros.
Playing with Keegan Bradley – his predecessor as US PGA champion – and Sweden’s Freddie Jacobsen, if McIlroy’s in contention going into the weekend he’s much better equipped to deal with a title tilt than before his final-round collapse in 2011.
But no matter what happens with Tiger and Rory, the Masters always throws up a surprise contender to keep us enthralled.
And that’s without even mentioning 14-year-old Chinese prodigy Guan Tianlang.