Rory McIlroy last to start at Augusta National as Masters tee times announced
Down native feels under 'less pressure' in pursuit of Grand Slam greatness at Augusta National
Rory McIlroy has been handed the dusk patrol for the opening round of the Masters when he tees it up with England's Matthew Fitzpatrick and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka in the final group on Thursday.
The Holywood star (32) will begin his eighth attempt to win the career grand slam at 2.03pm (7.03 pm Irish time) before taking to the course at 10:45 am (3.45 pm Irish time on Friday.
The Holywood star believes there is less pressure on his shoulders to win the one major he needs to become just the sixth player in history to win all four than there was in 2015 when he finished a career-best fourth behind Jordan Spieth.
"I would say (there is) less pressure," McIlroy said.
"My best finish was the first go around to try to win the slam. Jordan played wonderfully that week. I played well, maybe not as well as I could, but I played pretty much up to my potential, and it just wasn't good enough that week.
"I think as well, as I said, at the start, I'm maybe at a different stage of my life where back then golf was everything. Obviously, look, it's still very, very important, but maybe back then, I would think that - I don't know if I would feel like I was fulfilled if I didn't win one or whatever it is, but it's less pressure.
"Look, I know if I play well, I'll give myself chances to win this golf tournament. It's just a matter of going out there and executing the way you know that you can and stick to your game plan and be patient and be disciplined, and all the things you need to do around Augusta National.
"But I don't feel - you know, if I think back to 2015 when I was coming off that run, yeah, there's certainly less pressure, I feel, than there was then."
Tiger Woods has captured the spotlight this week as he prepares to play for the first time since suffering serious leg injuries in a car crash 14 months ago.
He said his intention is to play and he believes he can win.
"Well, as of right now, I feel like I am going to play, as of right now," said Woods, who is grouped with South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen and Chile's Joaquin Niemann (10.34 am local time, 3.24pm Irish time).
"I'm going to play nine more holes tomorrow. My recovery has been good. I've been very excited about how I've recovered each and every day, and that's been the challenge.
"That's why I came up here and tested it out for 27 holes because we play the par-3 course. Charlie couldn't help himself. I was able to play 27 holes that day and at home testing it."
Asked if competing and winning again at the Masters has been a motivating factor for him, he said: "It has.
"When I decide to hang it up when I feel like I can't win anymore, then that will be it. But I feel like I can still do it, and I feel like I still have the hands to do it, the body's moving good enough.
'I've been in worse situations and played and won tournaments. Now, I haven't been in situations like this where I've had to walk and endure what I'm going to try and endure, that's going to be different. It's a different challenge."
Pádraig Harrington still believes he can win the Masters at 50 and the Dubliner will get the Irish challenge underway with Canadian left-hander Mike Weir, the 2003 champion, and American amateur Austin Greaser, last year's US Amateur runner-up at 8.11 am on Thursday (1.11pm Irish time).
"I'm pretty clear about what I'm doing," Harrington said. "I'm here and it's serious business.”
Asked if could imagine winning, Harrington said: “Of course I could imagine it. Tere’s no doubt I can imagine it and in my world that’s what’s going to happen. Why wouldn’t I believe that? That’s going make me play my best golf during the week so I am going to go out there and believe that it’s possible.
“The last thing you’d want is to get yourself in a position to win the tournament and be confronted with it and not being prepared. So I’m going have to prepare for nine holes to go and having an opportunity and I’m going to take it.”
Shane Lowry is one of the dark horses to win the Masters and he's hugely confident in his game and more comfortable at Augusta National, where he has two top 25 finishes in his last two starts.
He's helped by a low-key draw with the in-form Max Homa and short game specialist Kevin Na, starting at 10.01 am on Thursday (3.01 pm Irish time).
West Waterford's Séamus Power has high expectations for his debut, and he's out t 12.24 pm (5.24 pm Irish time) with 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed and reigning Irish Open champion Lucas Herbert.
"You are going to try and set up your mentality, try and get yourself into contention for Sunday afternoon to try and win the tournament," Power said. "I know it's a long shot for someone like me, but it's a 90-man field.
"I really like the golf course. I always thought it would suit my game and from what I have seen so far, I think it still does.
"We'll see, but expectations are high. There is no point in being in the tournament otherwise. I'm going to prepare as well as I can over the next few days and go from there.”
Full list - all times Irish time, all golfers USA unless listed, (a) signifies amateur
1.00 Jose Maria Olazabal (Esp), JJ Spaun
1.11 Mike Weir (Can), Padraig Harrington (Irl), Austin Greaser (a)
1.22 Larry Mize, Sepp Straka (Aut), Francesco Molinari (Ita)
1.33 Fred Couples, Garrick Higgo (Rsa), Guido Migliozzi (Ita)
1.44 Vijay Singh (Fij), Ryan Palmer, Kyoung-Hoon Lee (Kor)
1.55 Min Woo Lee (Aus), Hudson Swafford, Cameron Young
2.06 Stewart Cink, Brian Harman, Harry Higgs
2.17 Zach Johnson, Si Woo Kim (Kor), Aaron Jarvis (Cay) (a)
2.39 Luke List, Matthew Wolff, Mackenzie Hughes (Can)
2.50 Danny Willett (Eng), Jason Kokrak, Talor Gooch
3.01 Max Homa, Kevin Na, Shane Lowry (Irl)
3.12 Kevin Kisner, Daniel Berger, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng)
3.23 Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith (Aus), Paul Casey (Eng)
3.34 Tiger Woods, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Joaquin Niemann (Chl)
3.45 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Justin Thomas, James Piot (a)
3.56 Adam Scott (Aus), Scottie Scheffler, Tony Finau
4.16 Sandy Lyle (Sco), Stewart Hagestad (a)
4.29 Lucas Glover, Erik van Rooyen (Rsa), Cameron Champ
4.40 Bernhard Langer (Ger), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Cameron Davis (Aus)
4.51 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Robert MacIntyre (Sco), Laird Shepherd (Eng) (a)
5.02 Gary Woodland, Justin Rose (Eng), Takumi Kanaya (Jpn)
5.13 Lee Westwood (Eng), Russell Henley, Corey Conners (Can)
5.24 Patrick Reed, Seamus Power (Irl), Lucas Herbert (Aus)
5.35 Bubba Watson, Tom Hoge, Keita Nakajima (Jpn) (a)
5.57 Marc Leishman (Aus), Webb Simpson, Sungjae Im (Kor)
6.08 Sergio Garcia (Esp), Thomas Pieters (Bel), Harold Varner III
6.19 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Sam Burns
6.30 Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel, Collin Morikawa
6.41 Will Zalatoris, Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm (Esp)
6.52 Jordan Spieth, Viktor Hovland (Nor), Xander Schauffele
7.03 Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy (NIrl)
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