Rory McIlroy is the man to beat at the Masters, says Jon Rahm

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Rory McIlroy’s “unbelievable golf” will make him tough to beat in the 83rd Masters according to Ryder Cup team-mate Jon Rahm.

McIlroy needs to win a first green jacket at Augusta National to complete the career grand slam, but comes into the week in brilliant form after following five straight top-six finishes with victory in the Players Championship.

Rahm himself has six top-10 finishes from nine events in 2019 and finished one place above McIlroy in last year’s Masters, but concedes the Northern Irishman is the man he would back to win if push came to shove.

“Who am I going to say besides me?” Rahm said with a smile. “I like to bet on myself. But that’s just being confident. It’s tough to choose in a sport like golf, especially in this event.

“When you have winners from Tiger (Woods) to Seve (Ballesteros) to Mike Weir to Phil (Mickelson) to Jordan (Spieth) to Ben Hogan, you have vastly different players and ways of playing the game and that’s the beauty about it.

“There’s not one way to play this golf course. There’s so many different ways to do it and there’s so many different things that you can do right. It’s one of those weeks where anybody can win at any given point.

“Now, if we are going based on how people are playing and forces to be reckoned with you always have to count Tiger and Phil. That’s seven green jackets between the two of them, it’s heavy. Bubba Watson, always somebody to count.

“But Rory is playing unbelievable golf. I mean, he’s playing the best golf he’s played in a long time and I think he’s one of the only ones who has more top 10s than I do this year, including the win at The Players.

“That’s really good golf and it seems like his putting has been lot better. If Rory is hitting the ball the way he is, and he putts good, he’s tough to beat.

“You can have people show up out of nowhere and win. It’s hard to bet but if I had to put all of it on one person that’s not myself, probably go with Rory. This is who I see right now playing the best and somebody who fits really good to this golf course.”

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The Masters 2019: Rory McIlroy bidding for career grand slam and other talking points

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Patrick Reed will be bidding to defend his Masters title on Thursday as the first major championship of the year gets underway at Augusta National in Georgia.

Here, we look at five talking points ahead of the tournament.

Can McIlroy complete a career grand slam?

Since lifting the PGA Championship nearly five years ago at Valhalla, much pressure has fallen on Rory McIlroy’s shoulders to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods in winning all four major titles.

In his four attempts to date, the Northern Irishman has finished fourth, 10th, seventh and fifth respectively.

If one round is to linger in his mind it will be his disappointing two-over-par 74 last year, when playing in the final group on Sunday with eventual winner Patrick Reed.

A blazing start to the season though has seen McIlroy win at Sawgrass, finish second in Mexico and secure three top-five finishes from seven starts.

The 29-year-old currently leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained overall.

This is his best chance to win the Masters in five years, and based on current form, is the strongest player in the field.

What shape is the defending champion in?

It’s hard to know which Reed will grace the stunning greens at Augusta this weekend.

Twelve months ago, the Georgia man came into the first major of the year high on confidence after posting three successive top-10 finishes.

However, this time around, he has not finished inside the top-10 since the WGC-HSBC Champions last October.

Only Nicklaus, Woods and Nick Faldo have won back-to-back Masters titles and the chances of Reed doing the same appear slim.

The 28-year-old is struggling with his putting and needs to use this weekend to restore confidence and belief before thinking of competing for trophies.

Is a Woods fairytale win possible?

Woods has only played the Masters twice since 2015 and has not won at Augusta National in nearly 14 years.

Winning a fifth green jacket would be a fairytale way to set one of the greatest sporting comeback stories after all the injury troubles he has been through in recent years.

Although it would take a brave man to rule out the possibility of a 15th major triumph, the 43-year-old has seen a run of encouraging results at the Genesis Open and Mexico halted by a neck injury which forced him to pull out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month.

The Florida native is coming off a T5 performance at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago, but the significant question remains whether he can stay consistent over four rounds with a neck niggle.

Can Spieth get back to his best?

Since leaving Augusta ranked number three in the world last year, Jordan Spieth has slipped to 32nd in the rankings and looking devoid of confidence over short putts.

In fact, he has not achieved a top-10 finish in nearly nine months – stretching back to the British Open at Carnoustie in mid-July.

And, while there has been little evidence to suggest he could challenge this weekend, his remarkable record at Augusta is better than anyone around (T2-1-T2-T11-3).

Perhaps a solid weekend with improved putting could parachute his confidence and overall game management back to a position where it should be.

A man of his vast talents is too good to be away from the top of the leaderboard.

Rose to rise in Georgia?

Justin Rose must wonder if he will ever get his hands on the green jacket after several near misses in Augusta.

The 38-year-old shot the joint-lowest score to finish runner-up in 2015 and followed that up with a play-off defeat to Sergio Garcia in 2017.

The world number one has been one of the most consistent players on Tour since that loss two years ago, and with victory at the Farmers Insurance Open and two top-10s under his belt this season already, could this be the year the Englishman finally roars into life at majors?

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Huizing clinches inaugural championship at Ayla Golf Club

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The Jordan Mixed Open Presented by Ayla, a pioneering new tournament engineered by the team at Ayla Golf Club, has proved an undisputed success, with competitors from all three co-sanctioning tours concurring that the innovative mixed format could set a blueprint for the future of the game.

In a nail-biting finish to the inaugural event, which witnessed competitors from the Challenge Tour, Staysure Tour and Ladies European Tour (LET) compete alongside one another for the first time, Dutchman Daan Huizing (Challenge Tour) saw off Meghan MacLaren (LET) to claim a two-shot victory and carve his name on the Triquetra Trophy with an impressive 16-under-par total.

Runner-up, MacLaren, who had previously spoken out about the disparity between pay and coverage of the men’s and women’s tours, demonstrated exceptional strength of character as she backed up her words with actions and highlighted the vast talent that presides on the Ladies European Tour with two consecutive rounds of 7-under-par 65, before final round of level par 72.

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