PGA Tour

Day, Spieth, McIlroy set for showdown

Jason Day (Gallo Images)
Jason Day (Gallo Images)

Augusta - World number one Jason Day, defending champion Jordan Spieth, form-finding Rory McIlroy and a host of past winners are converging on Augusta National with sights set on a champion's green jacket.

The 80th Masters tournament begins on Thursday with Australia's Day, fresh off triumphs at the World Golf Championships Match Play and Arnold Palmer Invitational, trying to win his second major in a row after taking his first at last year's PGA Championship.

"It's one tournament that I've always wanted to win," Day said. "I've always wanted to put the jacket on and go back every year. So the motivation and the want, there's no problem.

"It has been good for me confidence-wise over the last two weeks. But it is going to be a tough one. It's great to go there as number one. It's something I'm definitely going to be embracing. It will be fun to walk through the gates as number one in the world."

Day, who shared second at the Masters in 2011 and took third in 2013, leads a wide open field including 22-year-old Spieth, a wire-to-wire winner last year who matched Tiger Woods' 72-hole tournament record, and McIlroy, who would complete a career Grand Slam with a Masters triumph.

"I've got to understand there's going to be a lot of hype around Jordan. There's going to be a lot of hype around Rory, because he could finish his career Grand Slam. There's going to be a lot of hype around myself. Embrace it. Understand there's going to be some hype."

Australia's Adam Scott, the 2013 winner, is fresh off back-to-back wins at the Honda Classic and Doral. South African Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 champion, won in March at Innisbrook and Bubba Watson, the 2012 and 2014 champion, captured the Riviera crown in February.

Add three-time winner Phil Mickelson playing well and the stage is set for another dramatic showdown for golfing glory among the Georgia pines.

"It's an exciting lead up to the Masters with a lot of top players in great form," Scott said. "There are so many that I'd be surprised if some or all of these guys aren't there come Sunday, from Bubba to Jason to Jordan to Rory."

Spieth, excited for the Texas barbecue at his champions dinner, is playing at Houston the week before Augusta to peak his form.

"I feel much more confident than I did about Augusta," Spieth said at the WGC Match Play. I played very, very solid and most importantly I made a lot of birdies and that's something I haven't been doing."

McIlroy hasn't managed a triumph in the Masters run-up, but likes his chances.

"Seeing the guys that have won, with Bubba in LA, Adam in those two starts in Florida, Charl in Tampa and Jason, everyone is running in good form," McIlroy said. "Everyone is playing well and that's really what you want, your game rounding into form and playing to the best of your abilities.

"I feel like I'm close. I'm probably not quite where they are and I haven't had the confidence of getting a win this year, but I feel like it's close. Very confident going to Augusta knowing where my game is and knowing that I'm right where I need to be. My game feels in really good shape."

Schwartzel, who birdied the last four holes on Sunday to win his Masters title, snuck in some practice at Augusta ahead of his playing in Houston and liked what he saw of the legendary layout.

"The course is in good shape and it just made me excited again," he said. "You get a good feel for it, just to familiarize yourself again, hit some shots."

And he has the confidence of a PGA victory just a month before the Masters.

"Innisbrook was big for me because I knew my game was good enough to win," Schwartzel said. "It's one thing to sort of know that but to know it's good enough is a different thing and just having that win makes you believe more.

"I couldn't have asked for a better timely one going into Augusta. I always believe I can win again at Augusta but you start doubting yourself, 'Will you actually win?' Getting a win reassured me it's definitely way up on the radar."

And don't count out left-hander Mickelson, a five-time major champion at 45 who knows Augusta well.

"I'm playing well and I'm playing a golf course that I play extremely well at," Mickelson said. "And I would be very surprised if I didn't have a very good chance on the weekend."

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