The Masters 2015: Who is the biggest threat to Rory McIlroy?

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The Masters week at Augusta National is finally here and with it comes the traditional fight for supremacy and holder of the coveted green jacket.

Bubba Watson has two green jackets, including his victory here 12 months ago, but past successes are hardly relevant when the competition is as fierce as it has perhaps ever been.

Quite frankly, a third victory for Watson would be quite a feat considering this is arguably the most open Masters Championship of the modern era.

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British interest is stronger than ever with the media focusing particularly on Rory McIlroy and his bid to win the Grand Slam.

With the Northern Irishman still only 25 years old there is no logical reason for the strange sense of now or never that has been the focus of a lot of media reports of late. 

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The fact remains that McIlroy is in with a good a chance of anyone in the field this week – as long as he can avoid a repeat of the final round meltdown which ensued in 2011 when looking certain for victory.

Impending battle

In truth, McIlroy would have learned a lot from that experience but will be cautious of the impending battle awaiting him on Championship Sunday – if things go to plan of course and he should make it to Sunday.

Tiger Woods strode purposefully back into the public eye on Monday declaring he has every chance of a fifth victory at Augusta. Who could blame him? This is Tiger Woods after all, the most decorated golfer of our current generation - although I do believe this week could prove to be a difficult one for the 14-time Major winner on his return to the game.

Since 2000 the Masters has produced winners of all shapes, sizes and playing styles but one statistic unites almost all of them: only three Masters champions since then won without finishing in the top five in greens in regulation.

Adam Scott in 2013, Phil Mickelson in 2004 and Woods in 2001 and 2002 led the field in GIR en route to victory.

Augusta’s fast and undulating greens, tight lies and length often put a premium on scrambling, but a player with his best approach-shot game can avoid such treachery around the greens.

If McIlroy is to be denied a career Grand Slam at the Masters this week it may be because of the quality of the opposition rather than his own problems with the course.

With that in mind, here is a list of other contenders who could well be in the frame come Sunday.

The other contenders

Jason Day

The Australian typically rises to the occasion and often finishes strongly at Augusta – a second place finish in 2011 and a third place in 2013 tell their own story.

Ultimately, it would be Day’s putting down the stretch which would cost him a chance of Masters glory but he is likely to have learned from those close calls.

Ranked third in GIR and second in birdie average this season, along with past successes at the Masters, make Day a nearly unavoidable pick this week.

Jordan Spieth

Finished three shots adrift of champion Watson last year on Masters debut despite leading by two strokes after seven holes in the final round, before eventually succumbing to the intense pressure of a major down the stretch.

The American has two runner-up finishes and a victory at the Valspar Championship in his last three outings.

An excellent ball striker and fearless putter, Spieth’s impressive performance on his Masters debut 12 months ago was a sure sign of a career blossoming full of promise and expectation.

One slight downfall may be his workload over the course of the season to date and a play-off defeat to JB Holmes in Houston on Sunday would have hardly helped any lingering fatigue.

Patrick Reed

Already a four-time winner on the US PGA Tour and ranked 15 in the world despite still only being 24.

Reed was victorious earlier in the year winning the Tournament of Champions and is a former student at Augusta State University.

He endured a difficult debut at the Masters last year missing the cut but a convincing run on the PGA Tour, plus an impressive Ryder Cup debut, make him a genuine Masters threat.

Bubba Watson

It would be virtually impossible to have not included the winner of two of the last three green jackets in this list of contenders.

Watson appears to be better equipped to make a successful title defence this time around after appearing distracted in 2013 by the attention generated from his first Masters success in 2012.

The 36-year-old instinctive left-hander has finished in the top three in two of his last three events but has not competed since finishing third at Doral last month.

Brandt Snedeker

For the more ambitious punter, you can get an extremely generous 45-1 on Snedeker to claim his first Masters crown.

His intuitive quick putting style can work both in his favour and against him - Augusta’s unforgiving greens have caught the Vanderbilt University graduate out in the past but a win at the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach highlighted his undoubted potential.

Snedeker has enjoyed relative success at the Masters finishing tied third in 2008 and tied sixth in 2013.

Although he is still searching for his first major victory, and Augusta’s unrelenting array of difficult pin positions and ruthless greens will pose countless problems, Snedeker boasts a strong enough game to overcome these issues and could well be in with a chance come Sunday.

Who do you think will win The Masters? Let us know below!

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Adam Scott
Phil Mickleson
Tiger Woods
Bubba Watson
Brandt Snedeker
Rory McIlroy

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