| AUGUSTA, Georgia, April 4
AUGUSTA, Georgia, April 4 Not since 2001, when
Tiger Woods was seeking an unprecedented fourth successive major
title, has a Masters tournament been so eagerly anticipated as
this week's 76th edition.
Virtually all of the game's top players have arrived in good
form at Augusta National where heavy rain during the event's
build-up has softened the notoriously tricky greens, giving the
more inexperienced participants a greater chance of success.
Woods, who ended a two and a half year title drought on the
PGA Tour with victory at last month's Arnold Palmer
Invitational, will be hunting his fifth green jacket at a venue
where he has always felt extremely comfortable.
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland will be
seeking redemption 12 months after a final-round meltdown in
which he squandered a four-shot overnight lead with a closing
World number one Luke Donald and fellow Briton Lee Westwood,
who have become regular contenders in the game's biggest events,
will each be chasing a first major title, as will Australians
Adam Scott and Jason Day, joint runners-up last year.
Woods has been installed as a 4-1 favourite by British
bookmakers Ladbrokes with McIlroy next best at 5-1 but any talk
of this week's Masters being a two-horse race has been widely
rejected by their peers.
"Rory has never won here, Tiger has not won here since
2005," Westwood told reporters while preparing for Thursday's
"So I think everybody in this room would have to be naive to
think it was a two-horse race wouldn't they? Phil might have a
little bit of something to say about that; Luke might; I might."
Donald agreed: "It's a little naive to say that they are the
only two who have a chance to win around here. Just in the last
three or four years of majors, I don't think there's been a
multiple winner," said Chicago-based Donald.
"So obviously without one or two people dominating, I think
there's a chance for a lot of people to win this week."
Mickelson, who has won three green jackets at a venue where
his magical short game gives him an edge, believes the softer
conditions will turn the opening major into a lottery.
"When the subtleties don't come out, the experience of
playing here in the past is not as important," said the
"I think there's a very good chance that a young player,
inexperienced, fearless player that attacks this golf course can
win if you don't need to show it the proper respect."
There is no question, however, that experienced campaigners
generally thrive at Augusta National.
"Playing here for so many years now, this is my 18th year
here, so understanding how to play this golf course has really
helped me over the years," Woods said.
"I certainly am excited about playing and really looking
forward to getting out there. I feel like I'm driving the ball
much better than I have. I've got some heat behind it, and it's
South African Charl Schwartzel will defend the title he won
by two strokes when he became the first champion to birdie the
last four holes.
"That was very special," he said. "The biggest challenge for
me this year is that there are going to be more eyes on me,
people wanting to see whether I can live up to the challenge. I
have to go out there and treat it as a new tournament."
(Editing by Julian Linden)