Masters 2017: Rory McIlroy can achieve Grand Slam 'greatness' with Augusta win

Rory McIlroy tries to plot a route out of Augusta's famous azaleas in 2014
Rory McIlroy's best Masters finish is a fourth place in 2015
The Masters, Augusta, 6-9 April
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It's possibly the most picturesque sporting venue in the world. It's certainly the most exclusive.

Invitations extended only to the elite players in golf - past and present. Renowned as the being the toughest ticket for fans to get their hands on. The Masters is unique.

Famous for the magical aura which surrounds the event, the drama it invariably creates, the genuine beauty of the course manicured to within an inch of its life, and also for strict rules which the spectators [politely called patrons in Augusta] have to adhere to.

No running, no bare feet, no lying down, no sun bathing, no drinking or eating branded products, no mobile phones are just some of the many regulations.

Rules not to be broken. But records are, and there's plenty of those at stake this year.

Garth McGimpsey played at the Masters in 1986 and 1987
Bangor amateur Garth McGimpsey was the first Northern Irishman to play in the Masters in 1986 and competed again at Augusta a year later

Only 14 Irish golfers, nine from Northern Ireland, have ever received the honour of competing in the Masters. None have ever pocketed the winner's prize, which is this year almost £1.5 million out of an overall purse of £8 million.

A staggering payment for a winner's weeks work, albeit an achievement which can take a lifetime of dedication to fulfil.

But it's not really the money that matters to most - what the players really want is the green jacket presented to the winner. The tradition started in 1949 and the jacket must be returned the following year where it's kept under lock and key.

Irish golfers have won every other important professional tournament through the years.

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Masters 2017: McIlroy out to fulfil 'lifelong dream' at Augusta

Fred Daly, Padraig Harrington [twice], Darren Clarke and McIlroy have all won the Open Championship, with McIlroy and McDowell having earned US Open triumphs in addition to the USPGA successes of McIlroy [twice] and Harrington.

For good measure, McIlroy, Clarke and Shane Lowry have all earned World Golf Championship victories.

They have been bestowed some of the highest honours in the sport: Ryder Cup captaincy [Paul McGinley and Clarke], OBE [Clarke] MBE [McDowell and McIlroy].

McIlroy has also been world number one, and named the player of the year on both sides of the Atlantic but the title of Masters champion has eluded them all.

Infamously, McIlroy squandered a four-shot final round lead six years ago as he crashed out of contention with a closing eight-over-par 80.

This year he is again one of the favourites. Success would not only end the Irish hoodoo, but would complete something all together more special - a career Grand Slam.

McIlroy looks to join a very elite club

Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are two of the five players to have won all four major golf titles
Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are two of the five players to have won all four major golf titles

Just five players in history have managed the feat of winning all four major championships - Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.

It's the ultimate achievement, providing eternal golfing greatness.

For the Open Championship, a player has to conquer links land and all sorts of challenging weather conditions. The US Open is a test of patience, and perseverance.

In the USPGA Championship, big hitting can often be decisive, in addition to dealing with the sticky heat of an American summer.

The Masters' requirements are touch, imagination and most importantly being able to hold your nerve over the back nine holes.

Jordan Spieth looked set to defend his title last year until he took a quadruple-bogey seven at the 12th hole
Jordan Spieth looked set to defend his title last year until he took a quadruple-bogey seven at the 12th hole

Pressure can prove too much

Many of the biggest names in golf have wilted here under the pressure, like American Jordan Spieth who last year took a quadruple bogey at the short par-three 12th when he seemed certain to successfully defend the title.

McIlroy arrives at this year's tournament for the ninth time.

Fourth, two years ago, is his highest finish but he undoubtedly has the long-game tools to win. Long off the tee, hitting a draw, with a high ball flight. Tailor made for Augusta.

But much of the Masters challenge is all about putting.

The famous super slick greens are treacherous. Darren Clarke once told me putting on them is like putting in the bath.

Television doesn't do the surfaces justice, and as the venue possesses an underground system to suck moisture out of the greens when there's rain, they are always pretty much the same. Like glass.

Mind you with the massive storms so far this week, and with the forecast for more, this pristine course may be softer than usual, something that would be to McIlroy's advantage.

However it's also expected to be very windy which will provide an altogether different test.

Getting through the first two days unscarred by the elements will be McIlroy's first goal.

'Putting and preparation'

The world number two, by his own admission, can have good days and bad with the putter.

But if he can find the putting form that's helped him win four majors already, and obliterate the field in multiple other tournaments, he could prove unbeatable.

He certainly hasn't had the perfect preparation. McIlroy picked up an injury in the first tournament of the season in South Africa in January as a result of testing new equipment at Christmas.

The problem forced him to miss seven weeks but the Holywood man will be ready. That's because throughout his whole career McIlroy has had the remarkable ability to win when most least expect it.

In 2011, after the Masters disappointment, he bounced back just weeks later to win his first major.

The following year, after missing the cut as reigning champion at the US Open, he went on to triumph in the USPGA with a record score.

After an uninspiring 2013 McIlroy shipped a lot of criticism but said he would target two majors the next year to make up for it. He duly delivered winning the Open and the USPGA.

Also in 2014, after publicly splitting up with his then fiancée, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, on the eve of the flagship PGA Championship tournament, McIlroy overcame the mental anguish to win.

Even last year McIlroy turned around what was, by his own high standards, a below-par season, with an unforgettable triumph in the Irish Open and spectacular success in the Fed-Ex play-offs.

So McIlroy will be raring to go. The holy grail of golf is at stake. The ultimate goal.

Slipping on the green jacket and etching his name in the record books forever, might just mark McIlroy's feat of becoming the first European to achieve a Grand Slam as the greatest ever sporting achievement by a British or Irish sports person.

Can Rory handle the pressure of the moment? Can he peak at the right time around this picture perfect course? Can he assume iconic golfing status? Can he become Master McIlroy?

I say yes, without a doubt.

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