Masters 2015: Rory McIlroy & Tiger Woods top Augusta bill

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer at Augusta
McIlroy relishing career slam chance

World number one Rory McIlroy will be hunting down history as well as his first Green Jacket when he steps out on to the first tee at Augusta National on Thursday.

Northern Irishman McIlroy has only one top-10 finish in six previous visits to the Masters, but begins as clear favourite as he seeks to become only the sixth man to win all four majors.

I am here to win - Tiger Woods

The return of four-time champion Tiger Woods after the collapse in form that led him to take an indefinite break from the game had already heightened expectations around a tournament that needs little hyping.

Reigning champion Bubba Watson is also seeking a third title in four years, but McIlroy - whose campaign begins in a group with Phil Mickelson and Ryan Moore at 15:41 BST - believes he has both the experience and form to prevail.

"My mind wanders to winning this tournament and thinking what it would be like and what it would mean," said the 25-year-old.

"You come to Augusta National, and it's such an intimidating place the first time that you get here.

"I may have shown it a little bit too much respect at times, instead of playing my normal game and playing the way I usually do.

"I'm more experienced now. I think I'm better equipped now to handle if things don't go quite the right way.

Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson received his second Green Jacket from 2013 winner Adam Scott

"All the work I've done gearing up for this week has been good."

Woods, who is chasing a 15th major seven years after his last, goes off three hours after McIlroy in a group containing fellow American Jimmy Walker and Wales' Jamie Donaldson.

The 39-year-old has been on a sustained charm offensive since arriving in Georgia, insisting his game is in shape to compete even if his form over the past few years would suggest otherwise.

Since the start of 2014 the former world number one has bagged only one top-50 finish on tour. Woods has slipped to 111 in the rankings after struggling badly with his short game.

"People would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again, it was sun up to sun down," he said.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' last Masters win, in 2005, came after a play-off against Chris Di Marco, left.

"Competing is still the same. I'm trying to beat everybody out there. That hasn't changed. I've got four Green Jackets, I want five."

The lure of the Masters - the first major of the year - combines genuine tradition and carefully constructed myth in equal measure.

With its rolling fairways, viciously fast greens and banks of azaleas and pine trees, it is the most iconic of sporting theatres.

Golf's Grand Slammers
Gene SarazenSlam completed in 1935, aged 33
Ben HoganSlam completed in 1953, aged 40
Gary PlayerSlam completed in 1965, aged 29
Jack NicklausSlam completed in 1966, aged 26
Tiger WoodsSlam completed in 2000, aged 24

"You're in awe of the place," said Watson, paired with Justin Rose and Gunn Yang.

"This is what I consider the best golf course in the world.

"To have the Green Jacket twice wrapped around me - I still can't believe it. I can't put it into words how special it is and crazy it is that I have two trophies at my house."

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