Woods the one to beat at Augusta

Wednesday, 4 April 2012
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

All eyes will be on the in-form Tiger Woods when he tees off at Augusta National on Thursday in search of his fifth Masters crown.

The 76th edition of the Masters is one of the most anticipated with Woods, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and three-time champion Phil Mickelson headlining one of the strongest and most exciting fields in years.

Former world number one Woods heads into the tournament as the bookmakers' favourite, having broken his 30-month PGA tour title drought with a win at last month's Arnold Palmer Invitational - his first since the 2009 Australian Masters.

The 36-year-old is making his 18th appearance at Augusta National, where he wore the famous green jacket in 1997, 2001, 2002 and most recently in 2005.

However while world number two Rory McIlroy is unfazed by the bookies' odds, he appreciates the impact Woods' return to form has had in the lead up to the first major of the 2012 season.

"I, to be honest, couldn't care less about who the bookies make favourite," McIlroy said.

"It's only on paper."

"It's great for the game of golf that Tiger is back playing well. He creates excitement that no-one else in the game can."

"A lot of people want to see him make history, and it looks like he's back on track to maybe going and doing that."

"I'm just looking forward to hopefully getting myself in contention, giving myself a chance, and maybe coming up against maybe the best player ever; definitely the best player of the last 20 years."

McIlroy returns to Augusta National with renewed confidence after the disappointment of last year's Masters.

The 22-year-old Northern Irishman held a four-shot lead after 54 holes, but a final-round of 80 saw his chances evaporate while South African Charl Schwartzel shot a six-under 66 to record a two-stroke victory over Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott.

"I think one of the things I learnt was that as a person and as a golfer, I wasn't ready to win the Masters; wasn't ready to win a major," McIlroy said.

"I really needed to think about what I needed to do to improve mentally and in different aspects of my game to get better and I felt like I did that."

"It was a huge learning curve, learning experience, and I took a lot from it and was able to put some of the things I learned into practice very quickly, and that's what resulted in winning the US Open a couple months after."

Day and Scott are again Australia's main hopes in the draw, however there was concern on Tuesday when world number 11 Day limped away from the driving range with a left foot injury.

But the 24-year-old remains confident of taking his place.

"It's nothing big and at this stage I still intend to play," Day said.

"There was some discomfort but it would take a lot for me to miss a Masters."