AUGUSTA (Georgia) • Top-ranked Jason Day, defending champion Jordan Spieth, career Grand Slam seeker Rory McIlroy and a host of elite rivals have sparked an exceptional level of excitement for the 80th Masters.
A field of 89 will tee off today at Augusta National in the quest for the Green Jacket, but only one will slide their arms inside the sleeves come Sunday.
Australia's Day comes off triumphs at Bay Hill and the WGC Matchplay. Northern Ireland's McIlroy has found his form at just the right moment, and American Spieth's record-tying wire-to-wire win from last year still resonates in the Georgia pines. Between the "Big Three", they have won five of the past six Major championships.
Add Australian Adam Scott, twice a winner last month, plus fourth-ranked Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champion, 2015 Players winner Rickie Fowler, and five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson, and the stage is set for a showdown on golf's most acclaimed course.
"I would enjoy a Spieth-McIlroy-Fowler-Scott-Watson-Mickelson Sunday," Day said. "That would be a lot of fun."
I would enjoy a Spieth-McIlroy-Fowler-Scott-Watson-Mickelson Sunday.
JASON DAY, world No. 1, on his pick of contenders among an extremely strong field.
ROUND 1 TEE TIMES
(Selected, USA unless stated) All Singapore times
9.26pm Zach Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Jin Cheng (Chn)
9.48pm Jordan Spieth, Paul Casey (Eng), Bryson DeChambeau
10.21pm Vijay Singh (Fij), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Chris Kirk
10.43pm Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman (Aus), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
10.54pm Justin Rose (Eng), Jamie Donaldson (Wal), Daniel Berger
11.05pm Adam Scott (Aus), Kevin Kisner, Brooks Koepka
12.44am, tomorrow Branden Grace (Rsa), Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter (Eng)
1.06am Jason Day (Aus), Matt Kuchar, Ernie Els (Rsa)
2.01am Martin Kaymer (Ger), Bill Haas, Rory McIlroy (Nir)
Day 1: Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, 10.30pm
He has been enjoying himself, winning six of his past 13 events, including his first Major title at last year's PGA Championship, to overtake Spieth as world No. 1.
His boyhood dream, however, was winning the Masters.
His exuberance at the chance of making the fantasy real has resulted in Day pushing himself too hard at Augusta, but he believes he can finally prevail by keeping things relaxed.
"This has been a tournament in the past that I've tried too hard and shot myself out of the tournament," the 28-year-old said. "So this year, I'm just going to go through my normal game plan and just play, try and play the way I have been and hopefully I'll give it a good run at the end of the week."
McIlroy is on a chase of his own. The 26-year-old is bidding to join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen as the only players to have won all four Majors at least once.
He dismisses the notion of added tension affecting his game, but he knows it will increase every year he does not claim the Green Jacket.
"I feel like I've got everything I need to become a Masters champion," said the four-time Major champion.
"But I think each and every year that passes that I don't, it will become increasingly more difficult, so there's no time like the present to get it done."
Spieth is looking to the past as he tries to become the first back-to-back Masters winner since Woods in 2002.
Twelve months ago, he stunned the golf world as he completed a victory here by four shots, matching Woods' tournament record low of 18-under 270 for 72 holes.
"Going to try and just use last year as momentum," he said at a time when his putter, his sharpest weapon, has lost its edge. "We know we're capable of playing this place."
The 22-year-old has produced mixed form since clinching his seventh career title on the US circuit at the Tournament of Champions in January. But he feels his game is now clicking nicely into place.
"I've had a fantastic couple of days thus far preparing and my game feels great," said the Texan.
"My game actually feels better right now than I think it did last year on Tuesday, so that's good."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS