The Masters 2017 golf tournament will welcome 94 players from around the world to the first tee of Augusta National on Thursday, April 6. Among them will be this year's Masters champion, but will 2017 finally be Rory McIlroy's Green Jacket winning year?
Doing so matters a lot to the World No.2. He recently told ESPN that failing to win a Green Jacket is a missing piece in his idea of a fulfilled life.
"If I didn't have a green jacket, there'd be a tiny piece that would just be missing...I wouldn't be fulfilled if I didn't get it."Winning the Masters 2017 would not be McIlroy's first major. The Northern Irishman has won four majors since his first in 2011. But winning the 2017 Masters would allow him to complete a career Grand Slam, a feat achieved by only five men in history.
To win a Grand Slam, a golfer must win all four major tournaments: The Masters, The Open Championship, The U.S. Open, and The PGA Championship. McIlroy is missing only the Green Jacket of the Masters champion, with two PGA Championships alongside his Open Championship and U.S. Open wins.
McIlroy and Masters Golf
McIlroy has come close to donning the Green Jacket in the past, the prize given to all Masters champions. In 2015, he recorded his best Masters finish to date by coming in 4th behind Jordan Spieth. But McIlroy, who has featured in each Masters tournament since 2009, came closest to winning at Augusta in 2011.
Beginning his Sunday round of Masters golf four shots in front on 12-under par, McIlroy capitulated to finish tied-15th after a round of 80. This was the worst round in history for a player leading the Masters tournament after three rounds and certainly is something he won't want to repeat in 2017.
There were echoes of Rory McIlroy's epic blow-up in the 2011 Masters golf tournament during last year's final round. In 2016, the defending champion Jordan Spieth arrived on the back nine of Sunday's round five shots clear of the field. A quadruple bogey on the 12th hole signaled a collapse that led to a one-over-par 71 and a tie for 2nd place, three shots off the Masters champion, Danny Willett.
On the Saturday of the 2016 tournament, McIlroy had been alongside Spieth in the final pairing. A five-over-par 77 third round followed by a two-over-par 71 on Sunday saw McIlroy finish tied for 10th place. Whether he can avoid repeating such poor scoring in the latter stages of the Masters 2017 tournament will unfold in the coming days.
Masters Champion 2017?
If Rory McIlroy is to become Masters champion in 2017 he will have to beat a top quality field. It may be missing arguably the greatest golfer the world's ever known in Tiger Woods, but the generation that has followed him is one of raw talent drawn from across the globe.
Rory McIlroy's form coming into the Masters 2017 has been good enough for him to climb to No.2 in the world. Sandwiched between Dustin Johnson and Jason Day in the world rankings, he has played in five tournaments and finished in the top-ten in four of them.
Jason Day's preparations have clearly been disrupted by the lung cancer of his mother, though successful surgery has meant he will be teeing up for the 2017 Masters. But he arrives in patchy form, with only a single top-ten finish in six starts, including a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in January.
The world No.1, Dustin Johnston has had no such problems, making a winning start to 2017. In seven events, the American has recorded three wins, two coming in his last two outings. Johnson's performances have drawn praise from across the golfing world, including from former two-time Open champion Greg Norman.
"I'm really, really impressed with him. A combination of power, finesse [and] calmness beyond calm." He'll need that calmness on the famously treacherous greens of Augusta National if he is to better his best finish in the Masters so far, fourth last year.
Though Dustin Johnson may be the form player, and arguably the British golfer's closest rival, the ingredients are there for the Rory McIlroy to win the 2017 Masters, according to Iain Carter of BBC Sport.
Despite an "injury-blighted start to 2017" that included a fractured rib, McIlroy thrives on responding to adversity. His 2011, eight-stroke victory in the U.S. Open only months after his Masters' golf nightmare is one among many examples of this.
Who else could win the Masters 2017?
Beyond the world's top-three, there are plenty of players who could win the tournament.
23-year-old world No.6 Jordan Spieth should never be dismissed. In his three Masters golf appearances to date, he has never finished outside the top-two. The Texan has called the Masters his "favourite golf tournament" this week and sees his dramatic collapse in last year's tournament as part of that love affair.
"One reason why I love this place so much is that I learn something new about it every single time I play." What lessons he learned from last year will unfold over the four-day 2017 edition.
Beyond this group, could British players like Paul Casey or Justin Rose launch a bid for their first Masters' wins? World No.s 14 and 16 respectively, Casey and Rose are some of Augusta's most consistent players. Last year's final round 67 from Casey and Rose's 2nd-place finish in 2015 are signals that the British are never far away from winning another prized Green Jacket. After all, compatriot Danny Willett was the unexpected 2016 Masters Champion.
Will another past champion step forward to reclaim the title? One of the quirks of the Masters tournament is that every past champion is entitled to return to play the event, with players such as Ian Woosnam taking a break from the European Senior Tour to walk among the world's best new golfing talent on the Augusta course.
Of these players, Jordan Spieth is the best bet to add to his Green Jacket collection, followed by Bubba Watson and two-time Masters champion, Phil Michelson. World No.9 and 2013 Masters champion, Adam Scott, will also hope to be among the final pairings on Sunday.
Regardless of who will win, the Masters 2017 promises to be another special edition of the tournament as the world's greatest golfers compete on one of the world's most legendary golf course. Come Thursday morning, all eyes will be focussed on Augusta's first tee.
Whether Rory McIroy will finish Sunday wearing the Green Jacket of the 2017 Masters champion is one of many questions that will be answered in the next few days.
[Featured Image by Rob Carr/Getty Images]