Rory McIlroy is the man to beat in next week’s Masters, according to two-time US Open champion Curtis Strange, especially after his timely return to winning ways in the Players’ Championship.
McIlroy is heading to Augusta National for a fifth attempt to become just the sixth player to record a career grand slam in golf, having handed himself the perfect boost with his success at Sawgrass last month.
“Everyone on the planet was happy he won the Players – that was huge,” said Strange of the Northern Irishman having landed his first victory in more than a year after a string of near misses. “He didn’t need reminding that he hadn’t finished off tournaments in the last year or so after playing well in the first three days.
“To get over that little hurdle and win on a golf course that is in some way similar to Augusta. To win on a big stage like that. You think about yourself differently.
“So, if he is in contention on Sunday afternoon, it is a different Rory after winning the Players than it was before. Plus he has got the motivation – he knows what he is going up against to complete the slam here.”
Speaking on behalf of espn.co.uk, Strange added: “I think Rory just has to calm down and get the job done. How he does that, that is his own way. But you have just got to go in and say: if I play my game, if I get my job done it will be okay this week.
“When he plays his best golf, he is the best. It is hard to say who is going to be the favourite. But, if I went as a fan next week and I wanted to watch the player who I thought might win, you would be hard pressed not to follow Rory McIlroy the entire week. He is exciting to watch, he is explosive, he is likable, and there is a really damn good chance he will win.
“It is hard from the outside looking it. It is a tough game and a long week, but you have to bet not only on the ones who are talented but also in good form. Rory fits the bill in both categories.”