McIlroy looks to challenge Woods, Mickelson at Masters

Tiger Woods on the golf course

Pop Quiz: How many golfers not named Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson have won the Masters since 2000?

Answer: If you said five, I award you a ceremonious golf clap.

With that in mind, it stands to reason that any talk about who the favorites are to don the prestigious green jacket early Sunday evening has to start with Woods (four titles) and Mickelson (three). It also explains why has pegged them as 4:1 and 8:1 favorites, respectively, this week.

But before we start handing out premature trophies for a tournament that doesn’t get underway until tomorrow (click here for information on TV coverage), it should be noted that Tiger has not won the Masters since 2005 and that Mickelson has one victory there in the last five years. In fact, there’s been a recent five-year stretch where four one-time winners have sneaked in to win it all. They were Charl Schwartzel (2011); Angel Cabrera (2009); Trevor Immelman (2008); and Zach Johnson (2007).

This doesn’t even factor in rising star Rory McIlroy, who infamously blew a 4-stroke lead on Sunday at last year’s Masters and shot a mind-boggling 8-over-par 80. Many players would have allowed their careers to fall into a downward spiral after such a horrific collapse, but the young Irishman took his lumps, learned from the experience and bounced back courageously two months later with a dominant victory at the U.S. Open.

“One of the things I learned as a person and as a golfer is that I wasn’t ready to win the Masters,” he said earlier this week at a press conference. “I really needed to think about what I needed to do to improve mentally and in different aspects of my game.”

Even though Woods comes into the Masters with the momentum of winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, it is McIlroy who has finished in the top 10 in all but one of his last 12 tournaments. And it explains why oddsmakers at VegasInsider have him sandwiched between Woods and Mickelson as a 5:1 favorite.

“He has all of the makings of being a great champion for a long period of time,” Woods told the press this week. “Seems like every single tournament he plays in, he’s in the top 10, and that’s great to see.”

For those looking for somebody outside the top three to root for at Augusta, possible contenders include Schwartzel (back to defend his title), Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan.