It seems like only yesterday. Rory McIlroy arrived at Augusta National on Sunday 10 April 2011 as the 54-hole leader of the Masters. He was four strokes ahead of the field. He was still leading standing on the 10th tee. But not for very much longer. His drive hit a tree and ricocheted towards some nearby cabins. He ended up with a triple-bogey seven. His head gone, he three-putted 11, four-putted 12, then lashed his drive at 13 into Rae’s Creek. “Well, that wasn’t the plan!” he quipped after shooting 80, eventually finishing tied for 15th in what had appeared to be a one-horse race.
2011, though! Where have those eight years gone? Best not to think about it. But Rory has since collected all of the other majors, the FedEx Cup, and most recently the unofficial fifth major, the Players. Pretty much all that’s left to achieve – using broad brush strokes here, but you get the drift – is to claim the big one that got away when he was a mere pup of 21.
If the bookies, who have McIlroy a short-priced favourite, are right, this could be his year. Holywood’s biggest star is in fine fettle after his win at Sawgrass, a victory that ended a long barren run. If he manages it, he’ll become only the sixth man in the Masters era to complete the career slam, after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. That’s a helluva club to join. God speed, Rory.
He’s not going to have it all his own way, though, is he? Plenty of other players will be thinking it’s their time, too. Dustin Johnson’s game is tailor made for Augusta. Ditto the new world number one Justin Rose, who has unfinished business here after losing that play-off to Sergio a couple of years back. Rickie Fowler was runner-up here last year and has to win that maiden major at some point, surely. Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood have all the tools. Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari are form horses in the majors. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed aren’t on their games right now but know what it takes to win here and what better place to get back in the saddle?
Then of course there’s Tiger. The great man returned to winning ways last season by landing the Tour Championship, his 80th victory on tour but his first in five years. After a rough time, the four-time Masters champion is back … and sixth favourite this week behind McIlroy, DJ, Rose, Rahm and Fowler. Having come so close at last year’s Open, then even closer at the PGA, this could be the fairytale to end all fairytales. Is number 15 on the cards? It could be on the cards. God speed, Tiger.
There are others. Many others. Bubba, Bryson, Casey, Oosthuizen, Matsuyama, Finau, Leishman, Kuchar, Sergio, Phil, the Sonics. But we’ll be here all day, and the golf fever’s raging. Won’t someone please call Dr Golf? He’ll get going at 2pm BST, 9am in Georgia. It’s on!