Masters 2013: Tiger Woods is the man to beat at Augusta
Masters 2013: Tiger Woods is one of the leading contenders to claim the green jacket at Augusta National this week
Tiger Woods – fresh from reclaiming his spot at the summit of world golf – will be the man to beat at this year’s Masters.
The 37-year-old is one of the form players heading into the tournament having captured six wins in his last 20 outings.
With one of those including victory in last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, he is a firm favourite to acquire a fifth green jacket at Augusta National.
Yet in a tournament as unpredictable as it is prestigious, the rest of the field will at least take heart from the fact Tiger arrived in Georgia in a similar position last year and ultimately left empty-handed.
Having taken a comfortable victory at Bay Hill in the run up to last year’s event, he registered his worst Masters showing since 1996 with a tied 44th finish.
The American – who holds a Masters record for the lowest winning score of 270 – is scheduled to tee-off on Thursday alongside compatriot Scott Piercy and world number four – England’s Luke Donald.
One man sure to be waiting in the wings if the youngest ever Masters champion stutters will be Northern Ireland’s two-time Major winner Rory McIlroy.
Despite an indifferent start to the year, Woods has identified the world number two – and now Nike stable-mate – as his main rival.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve had a few and Rory is certainly this generation’s,” he said.
Woods’ last Major triumph was the 2008 US Open – his 14th title – but he believes he has plenty of opportunities ahead of him to add more, including this week.
“We have very expansive careers and I feel like I’m basically right in the middle of mine,” he added.
“I have a lot of good years ahead of me and I’m excited about this week. It took Jack [Nicklaus] a while to get to 18 majors, all the way until he was 46-years-old.
“So there are plenty of opportunities for me.”
Alongside Sir Nick Faldo and Nicklaus, Woods is one of only three men to successfully defend his Masters title.
Looking to join them will be defending champion Bubba Watson – the big-hitting American having claimed a gutsy play-off victory over South African Louis Oosthuizen last year.
With only two top-10 finishes this season however, the 34-year-old will aim for a timely end to his barren spell.
Also guaranteed to be there or thereabouts come Sunday evening is Watson’s compatriot and fellow left-hander – three-time champion Phil Mickelson.
Although ‘Lefty’ has not enjoyed the most successful of calendar years, he recorded a stunning victory at the Phoenix Open in February and finds himself still within the PGA Top Five money list.
However, a change in the PGA schedule left the world number nine without a tournament to compete in the week before the Masters.
With preparations far from ideal, the 42-year-old expressed his concern for his tournament chances.
“It’s always a challenge when you haven’t been in competition to be really mentally focused and sharp,” he said.
“What I’m nervous about is just those first opening five or six holes, being mentally tuned in for them.”
No player has donned the famous jacket more times over the last nine years than Mickelson and his experience and love of the Augusta course means you can never rule him out.
PGA Tour winners Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar are also names to look out for, while Adam Scott and Jason Day will be bidding to become the competition’s first Australian champion.
As most players’ favourite Major, the Masters is always one of the main highlights of the golfing calendar and this year looks no different.