Will Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy end their major frustration?
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods headline today’s opening round of the 83rd Masters Tournament. Lost in all the talk of their favored status is just how long it’s been since either won a major championship.
For the 43-year-old Woods, 11 years have passed since his last major title. Of his 14 majors, four are green jackets, the last one coming in 2005.
McIlroy, 29, would love just one of those jackets. He has four majors, but the last one came at the PGA Championship in 2014. Since then, he’s come to Augusta National every year needing a victory to complete the career Grand Slam.
He’s come close, finishing in the top 10 each year, and earned a spot in the last pairing in the final round last year, when he shot 74 and tied for fifth.
But his game has never been this strong coming into a Masters. He hasn’t been outside the top 10 in his past seven events, and he won The Players Championship in mid-March. He’s ranked No. 3 in the world.
“I”m playing some of the best golf of my career,” McIlroy said.“I would dearly love to win this tournament one day. If it doesn’t happen this week, that’s totally fine, I’ll come back next year and have another crack at it. But I’m happy with where everything is, body, mind, game.”
At the WGC-Match Play Championship two weeks ago, McIlroy said, referring to the Masters, that “there’s a difference between a personal desire and a need. I would have said a couple of years ago, ‘I need to win a Masters. I need a green jacket.’ Now, it’s ‘I want to, I want to win it. I’d love to win it, but if I don’t, I’m OK.’ And I think that is the difference.”
He was asked this week how he would separate those two thoughts if it came down to the final holes with the green jacket on the line Sunday.
“I haven’t thought about it,” McIlroy said. “I guess there’s a lot of bridges to cross until we get to that point. I think all the work that I’m doing and everything that I’m trying to put into my game and to my life in general, you know hopefully, not everything will be ingrained, but I have mechanisms and thoughts to draw on that can at least try to separate those two or give me some perspective on what’s happening out there.”
Woods and McIlroy have gone head-to-head recently. Woods beat him 2 and 1 in the Round of 16 of the Match Play.
“To be honest after the Match Play, I was a little disappointed that he couldn’t put his finger on it,” three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo said of McIlroy. “It was a huge emotional match, to go out and play Tiger Woods. (McIlroy) was out of sorts. He occasionally gets out of sorts. If everything is going well and he’s got a spring in his step, well then he’s one or the best in the world. If he loses the spring in his step, for whatever reason - one too many drivers goes crooked - he doesn’t have that mega consistency. The drives could be off, the wedges off, the putter could be off. If they’re on, they’re incredible.”
McIlroy and Woods are among a large contingent that could win this Masters. They will take the first step on an Augusta National course that is still soft from rain on Monday and Tuesday.
“Given the recent rainfall, the course will not play as firm and as fast as we would like it,” said Augusta National and Masters Tournament Chairman Fred Ridley. “Nevertheless, thanks to the excellent work of our golf course and nursery teams, we are ready to provide a proper test for the best players in the world.”
That test will be a stern one, as always.
“Everybody knows you’ve got to be running pretty close to nine out of 10,” Faldo said. “If you think you’re going to win here, you’re not going to win with a weakness in your game.”
World No. 1 Justin Rose, World No. 2 Dustin Johnson and No. 4-ranked Brooks Koepka are expected to have a say before it’s all over.
Koepka is going for his third major championship in his past four starts, Rose has only been outside the top 20 here once since 2009, and Johnson is approaching the form he had in 2017 before he injured his back and had to withdrew before the first round.
Then there is 2015 champion Jordan Spieth, a former World No. 1 whose struggles have dropped him to No. 33. The three-time major champion hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open.
But something happens to him at Augusta National, where he has the best scoring average (70.5) of anyone with at least 20 rounds played. He closed with 64 last year to finish third.
“He’s going to play well this week,” said Spieth’s good friend, Justin Thomas. “I really do think that. He’s shown strides all year. Just hasn’t been able to put it all together over the course of four days, but I would say his record at this course speaks for itself and his comfortability level. I think he’ll be just fine.”
Defending champion Patrick Reed, who hasn’t won since he did so here last year, is also seeking a spark.
“I’ve been really close,” Reed said. “I’ve put myself in position in some events. It’s just one round here or there that has kind of hurt me. I just need to go out and put four solid rounds together.”
Woods, who regained his health last year, showed he was ready to win another major when he contended at the British Open and PGA Championship. Then he won the season-ending Tour Championship for his first win since 2013.
“We all know he’s back,” Koepka said.
Even Woods finds it hard to believe he’s been stuck on 14 majors since he won the 2008 U.S. Open.
“Yeah, I would say that I wouldn’t have foreseen that, for sure,” he said. “After I won my 14th, I felt like I still had plenty more major championships that I could win, but unfortunately I just didn’t do it. I put myself there with chances on the back nine on various Sundays and just haven’t done it. You know, hopefully this year, I put myself there again, and hopefully I’ll get it done.”