Tiger, Rory set the pace for strong Masters field

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Tiger, Rory set the pace for strong Masters field

AUGUSTA, Georgia - Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy command most of the attention leading into Thursday’s start of the 76th Masters, but there will be 95 other golfers trying to win the champion’s green jacket, too.

World No. 7 Woods, the highest-ranked Masters winner, snapped a two-and-a-half-year win drought by taking the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, showing the form that brought him 14 career major titles, four off Jack Nicklaus’s record.

“Fine tuning here and there, making the adjustments, that’s a good sign for Augusta,” Woods said. “I understand how to play Augusta National and it’s just a matter of executing the game plan.”

Second-ranked McIlroy, a Northern Ireland prodigy who won last month’s Honda Classic to seize the top ranking for two weeks, won his first major crown at last year’s U.S. Open after a back-nine Sunday collapse cost him the Masters.

“I’ve always been a pretty confident guy, but I’ve got a lot more belief in myself now when I’m going down the stretch,” McIlroy said. “I definitely don’t doubt myself as much as I used to.”

Either Woods or McIlroy is featured on covers of the latest golf magazines, both of them drawn in boxing gloves for one publication. They are not the whole show at Augusta National this week, but they are the headliners.

“If we want to win this tournament, we have to beat Rory and Tiger,” said 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, who shared fourth last year.

“I don’t think they are the whole show but you have to beat them to win.”

Aussie Jason Day, who shared second last year with countryman Adam Scott, sees the excitement of a possible Woods-McIlroy showdown as a benefit to golf, but he wouldn’t be surprised to see someone else win the title on Sunday.

“It’s going to be pretty exciting with Tiger just winning recently and how Rory has been playing this year,” Day said. “There are a bunch of guys this year that have really stepped up and played great. Hopefully we can have another exciting finish like we did last year.

“Any player like Rory or Phil [Mickelson] or Tiger that goes ahead and wins this week, it would be great for the game of golf.

“But I’m going to do my best to try to stop them.”

South African legend Gary Player, a three-time Masters champion who has made a record 52 starts at Augusta National, likes Rory McIlroy to win the Masters.

“I have to favor Rory McIlroy this year,” Player wrote in a Laureus Web site blog. “Last year he was playing so well and was leading and had that collapse in the final round with an 80. I think Rory has a little revenge in his heart for the golf course. The way he recovered from that upset at the U.S. Open a couple of months later showed what maturity he has.”

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