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Rory’s best will never match Tiger – Azinger

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10 April: Rory looks at a shot during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the US Masters

10 April: Rory looks at a shot during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the US Masters

Tiger Woods during a practice round at Augusta. Pic: Reuters

Tiger Woods during a practice round at Augusta. Pic: Reuters

REUTERS

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10 April: Rory looks at a shot during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the US Masters

RORY McILROY has come roaring back into form in the nick of time for the Masters but even at his Major championship-winning best, the Holywood star will never match Tiger Woods when it comes to the intimidation factor.

Paul Azinger, the outspoken former US PGA winner who led America to victory at the 2008 Ryder Cup in Valhalla, says: "I really think the bar and the standard Rory is measured by is Tiger Woods ... and he's not Tiger Woods.

Interactive Masters 2013 hole-by-hole guide 

"Rory's more like Phil Mickelson or like Ernie Els or somebody like that. He's more normal.

"Tiger is in a place we may never have seen in the past and that we may never see again," added Azinger, now a top TV golf pundit in the States with ESPN. "Even the great Jack Nicklaus may not have done what Tiger has done. But Tiger has jammed the bar so high for the No 1 player that a guy like Rory has a standard that's really impossible to live up to."

McIlroy (below) grabbed world No 1 last August when he won a second Major title, the US PGA in record-breaking fashion, embarking on a winning spree that took him to the top of the money list on both the European and PGA Tours.

Yet as the Ulsterman stalled early in 2013, Tiger replaced him at the top of the world with three wins in five events on the PGA Tour, making him firm favourite at Augusta this week.

"Nobody on earth has ever putted like Tiger Woods putts, especially under pressure," said Azinger. "He's putting so good again, he can finish dead last in fairways hit at Bay Hill and still win.

"Nobody else can do that. I've played Bay Hill since I was in college, and if you don't hit fairways there, you shouldn't be in contention, yet he wins because of the way he putts.

"Tiger feels pressure like everyone else but deals with it better. The pressure that he's feeling going into this Masters is real.

"I'm looking forward to watching this week as much as any Masters to see how he deals with it."

Former US Open champion Curtis Strange agreed. "When you're standing on the first tee with Tiger Woods on Sunday this year at the Masters, you know damned well you have to play one of your best rounds ever to win because he's going to play well. And that in itself is intimidating," he said.

"I think the intimidation factor is not completely back, but it's growing in that direction. If he wins the Masters, it might not be like it was in 2000 but he's an intimidating figure on the course."

Tomorrow's Masters cut will be made at the top 50 and ties, plus those within 10 strokes of the leader, an increase from 44 and ties.

Meanwhile Bernhard Langer knows a thing or two about winning the Masters and, while he rates Tiger Woods among the favourites this week, he believes up to 60 players are capable of claiming the Green Jacket on Sunday.

A twice former champion at Augusta National, the 55-year-old German also said he has been no fan of the lengthening of the course and the introduction of rough over the past decade, changes he feels have made the layout a brutal test of driving.

"That's why Tiger hasn't won here on a regular basis lately and why Phil Mickelson sometimes has had a hard time here," said Langer.

"With his short game, you would think Phil would have won five (Masters) by now but you've got to drive the ball really well. There are a lot of tough driving holes, even though it's a real advantage for someone who can carry the ball 300 yards in the air.

"Tiger is certainly one of the favourites but I wouldn't necessarily say he is the hot favourite because you have such a strong field here," added Langer.

Irish Independent