Is this the year that an Irishman will wear the Green Jacket?
Irish golf is known the world over, with both courses and players being held in the highest regard. However, the ultimate title at the US Masters in Augusta has so far eluded the men from the Emerald Isle - will this year see a change?
Published 09/04/2015 | 02:30
The US Masters is the curtain raiser of the golfing year, and since its beginnings in 1934 it has gone from strength-to-strength. However, not once in its illustrious history has an Irishman donned the Green Jacket.
This year, however, the Irish contingent looks like it could have enough firepower to break the decades long duck. Some top quality players such as Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and of course Rory McIlroy are all in with a chance to wear the legendary Green Jacket and make golfing history.
Who's in contention?
Pádraig Harrington has come closest to glory in Augusta. He tied for 5th place in 2002 and then again six years later. After his win in February at the Honda Classic his confidence will also be sky high.
"The Masters is definitely one of the special ones to win because I think we come back here every year and know everything so well," said Harrington in 2010. "It's also the first major of the year and the one you wait the longest for."
Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell have had considerably less success at Augusta. Clarke tied for 8th in 2002, with McDowell tying for 17th in 2009 and 12th in 2012. However, with their track record it's impossible to rule them out of the picture.
Clarke has also been recently named European captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup, which will surely have a hugely positive affect on his confidence.
US Masters debutant Shane Lowry has his eyes firmly on the prize.
"I don't see why a rookie can't win the Masters as it's only another golf tournament, and that's how I will be treating it," said Lowry recently. "I know many (are) already predicting Rory can win but I'm also going to Augusta to win." And with his game, why not?
However, out of all of the homegrown players, it's the much talked about McIlroy that is attracting the most attention this year.
'Rory Slam' on the horizon, but does it matter to his legacy?
Rory McIlroy has a chance to go down in golf history by being the first Irishman to win the Green Jacket. But he also has the opportunity to make global history by becoming one of only six others to win all four majors. He can even do so before his 26th birthday!
Tiger Woods was the last player to achieve this feat when he won the Open in 2000 at 24 years of age. But should McIlroy be in a rush? When Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters he was 46. This goes to show that, with talent, a golfer's career can be a lengthy one.
As the current 2014 US Masters winner Bubba Watson recently said about McIlroy, "he's so young, he's going to have year-after-year-after-year to try to do this, to win a grand slam."
It would be quite an accomplishment for the young man from Co Down, but as Watson says, McIlroy still has time to add a lot of glory to his already glittering career.
Meltdown in 2011
In 2011 McIlroy threw away a four-shot lead in spectacular fashion, but he's adamant that the past is the past and he is ready to contend for the Green Jacket once again.
"I don't know if I had not had that day, whether I would be the person and the player I am," McIlroy said last year. "I learned exactly what not to do under pressure and definitely learned how to handle my emotions better on the course."
5 things you probably didn't know about the US Masters
1 Broadcasters beware!
Broadcasters and commentators are under strict guidelines when reporting from Augusta. The spectators must not be referred to as fans or punters. They must be called patrons and as announcer Gary McCord found out in 1994, they're very serious about their rules. He said, "They don't cut the greens here at Augusta, they use bikini wax.", placing him firmly on the club's media blacklist!
2 A war effort
From 1943 until late 1944 Augusta was closed and what is now known as the US Masters was suspended. Livestock was brought onto the rolling greens with more than 1,400 turkeys and 200 cattle calling the club home. The cattle damaged the fairways and greens so much that German prisoners of war were brought in to help repair the damage!
3 Going for gold
The course is known for its scenic beauty and pristine nature. But did you know that there's a water spring between the 13th and 14th fairways that spouts out gold dust? This phenomenon happens when it rains!
4 Caddy rules
Until 1983 players in the US Masters had to use local caddies instead of their own. Nowadays they can bring their own caddy, but they must adhere to the Augusta National caddy uniform. This includes a white jumpsuit and a green hat.
It's not all bad for the caddies though, in May the Augusta caddies can play the course free of charge!
5 Members only
It's not easy to become a member at Augusta. In fact, it's nearly impossible! To be considered you must be nominated by a member, and places don't become free until one of the current members leaves or dies.
Billionaire Bill Gates was famously denied entry for years, but was eventually allowed join in 2002.