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Augusta Masters shaping up to be a closely-fought affair


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Augusta Masters shaping up to be a closely-fought affair

This Thursday sees the kick off of the Masters, golf’s first Grand Slam of the season.

The tournament is shaping up as one of the best in recent memory with all of the game’s leading players having produced superb form over the past three months.

World number three Rory McIlroy is the only player ranked in the top six who has not claimed at least one title this year, though he came close with a tie for third at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami last month.

While Zack Johnson who won the Green Jacket in 2007 and the British Open claret jug last year, hopes to reunite the two.

Joking with reporters, the player said: “You know what i saw the Claret Jug last night for the first time in a long time.

“I might try and introduce it to Mr Green Jacket, that’s probably a rare thing. I don’t know my history but I imagine it doesn’t happen that often.”

Second-ranked American Jordan Spieth, the reigning Masters champion, triumphed at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January while Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott have each landed two PGA Tour titles over the past five weeks.

Swede Henrik Stenson exhibited his usual quick wit when he was made aware a European has not won the Masters since Spaniard José María Olazábal in 1999.

“Well, we’ll make it happen this year then,” Stenson said with a mischievous grin on Monday.

Stenson was only part joking. He has arrived at Augusta National in fine form after a runner-up finish at the Houston Open on Sunday and buoyed by a more aggressive game plan he developed from watching Jordan Spieth win last year’s Masters.

Poised to celebrate his 40th birthday on Tuesday, Stenson played his first two rounds with Spieth and liked the assertive manner in which the American won his first major.

Stenson attacked Augusta in his final round a year ago and posted a four-under-par 68 to jump up into a tie for 19th.

‘I think my strategy is to play a little more aggressive this year and shoot a bit more for the pins. I feel like I tried to play a little too defensive in the past and if you’re looking at the leaders and the winners they all tend to make about 20 birdies this week and there’s no point in going out there with a strategy to make 14 birdies and no bogeys. You’re going to come up short.”

Stenson has not won on the PGA Tour since the 2013 Tour Championship which earned him a $10 million bonus. His second-place showing in Houston was his eighth runner-up finish on the PGA and European Tours since his win 30 months ago.

Jim Herman is living the American dream and on Monday the journeyman still was not quite sure if he had woken up after securing a last-minute Masters invite with his first PGA Tour victory.

A visit to Augusta National for the year’s first major is a trip to a golfing dreamland for fans and players alike and one Herman, ranked 191st in the world, was not anticipating when he arrived at the Houston Open for his 106th PGA Tour start.

“You want to dream, you want to believe that you’re going to make it [to a Masters],” said a smiling but clearly fatigued Herman a day after his Houston Open triumph.

“But you just don’t know until it’s upon you. There were a lot of opportunities yesterday that I wouldn’t have been able to get through and hold on and win the tournament,” he said.

Likely contenders this week at Augusta in include long-hitting American Dustin Johnson, his compatriot Phil Mickelson who will be seeking a fourth Masters victory, 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose of England and rising Japanese talent Hideki Matsuyama.

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