Golf

Confident Johnson, cautious McIlroy

Augusta primed for US Masters showdown between world's top-two golfers

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is favoured to capture the 81st US Masters, but plenty of golfers see Rory McIlroy as a Green Jacket threat when the year's first Major championship tees off tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

A showdown of global greats at the 7,435-yard Augusta National sees Johnson arrive on a three-tournament winning streak and second-ranked McIlroy, a four-time Major champion, seeking a Masters crown to complete a career Grand Slam.

Johnson said that being the hottest golfer on the planet heading into the Masters means nothing when it comes to trying to tame Augusta National.

History is not on the long-hitting American's side as no world No. 1 has captured the Green Jacket since Tiger Woods in 2002.

"It's a funny game. It doesn't matter how good you're playing, you can still not win," said 32-year-old Johnson, who became No. 1 in February.

"I've got a lot of confidence in my game right now, especially with the way I've been playing the last few tournaments.

"But anything can happen."

Apart from two top-10 finishes the last two years, Johnson has a modest history at the Masters, but has never arrived here with his game as sharp as it is right now.

Last year, his chances of victory were ruined by two double-bogeys in the final round. He tied for fourth, four shots behind winner Danny Willett.

STRENGTHS

Johnson now boasts all the tools needed to tame the demanding layout, most notably his prodigious length off the tee that will give him as good a chance as anyone of changing the four par-five holes into par-fours.

Should Johnson, who clinched his first and only Major at last year's US Open, win this week, he would become the first golfer other than Woods to win in four consecutive US PGA Tour starts since Ben Hogan in 1953.

"The last couple years, I've done a little bit better and I feel like I've had a chance," said Johnson, who will tee off tomorrow with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and US PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker.

"Obviously, I'm playing well coming into this week, so hopefully, I can continue that success and I'm looking forward to giving myself a chance to win on Sunday."

Meanwhile, McIlroy has revealed how the pressure of chasing the career Grand Slam turns him into a "complete p****" during the Masters.

McIlroy needs to win at Augusta National to join Woods, Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player in having claimed all four Major titles.

Asked to name the first thing he thinks of when someone mentions the year's first Major, McIlroy told Golf Digest: "Stressful."

"I am, ask anyone who knows me, a complete p**** in the week leading up to Augusta. But they understand and know that. It's a stressful situation."

The Northern Irishman famously lost a four-shot lead in the final round in 2011 after collapsing to a closing 80 and knows limiting his mistakes is key to getting his hands on the Green Jacket.

Since 2010, the 27-year-old has had more double-bogeys or worse at Augusta than any other player under 50, a key factor in shooting a round of 77 or higher in six of his last seven starts.

"It's always important to get off to a decent start, especially here," said McIlroy, who will tee off alongside Spaniard Jon Rahm and Japan's Hideto Tanihara in the first round.

"You don't want to feel like you're playing catch-up on this course, because you feel like the more you force the issue, the more things can go wrong.

"You don't need to come out and shoot a 65 on the first day, but you're better off shooting something under par."

McIlroy is 81-year-old South African legend Player's choice for champion.

"My choice this week - Rory McIlroy," Player said.

"He made a mess of it one year. He has gotten that out of his system and he's playing really well." - WIRE SERVICES

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