Defending champion Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy all missed the cut at the Masters on Friday, while Justin Rose remains in the lead.

Johnson, who won the Masters for the first time in November, shot a three-over 75 on the second day to be five over overall and miss the cut by two strokes.

World number one Johnson made three bogeys on his final four holes to miss out, having previously impressed at Augusta, with top-10 finishes in his past five appearances.

He made four birdies on the front nine but also had two bogeys and a double bogey on the fifth.

Johnson becomes the third Masters champion in the past 15 years to miss the cut.

"Six three-putts in two rounds, you just can't do that," Johnson said. "Obviously didn't drive it great but drove it good enough.

"I never was really too bad out of position, just the three-putts killed me. You take all the three-putts away, I'm one under. That was kind of the difference."

The 36-year-old was joined by four-time major winner Koepka with a similar round to miss the cut, along with 2017 Masters winner Garcia, who shot an even round of 72 to finish at four over.

Four-time major winner McIlroy (74) and two-time Masters runner-up Lee Westwood (71) also failed to make the cut, with both unable to recover after poor first days at Augusta.

At the other end of the leaderboard, Rose sits one shot clear of Will Zalatoris and Brian Harman after a second-round 72, having led by four shots on the opening day.

Rose bogeyed four of his first seven holes on Friday, before steadying with three birdies on the back nine to salvage his lead.

"I think it was just a classic day at Augusta National when you're just slightly off," Rose said.

"You can be a foot or two out on certain occasions and you end up struggling. I think maybe off the back of yesterday, it starts to feel pretty different pretty quickly. But I told myself going up the eighth hole, you're leading the Masters, your frame of reference is a little bit different to yesterday. Four ahead is something, but you're still leading so like just enjoy it and keep going."

On his Masters debut, 24-year-old Zalatoris moved up the leaderboard swiftly, aided by five birdies on his back nine, including three straight to finish his round as he carded a four-under 68.

Harman also moved into contention after three birdies on his final six holes to finish with a three-under 69.

Australian Marc Leishman and last week's Texas Open winner Jordan Spieth are tied for fourth after both enjoyed strong rounds on Friday.

Bernd Wiesberger and Tony Finau both shot 66s on Friday to storm up the leaderboard into joint sixth alongside four other players, including world number two Justin Thomas.

Brooks Koepka is unsure if he will play again before the US PGA Championship after missing the cut at the Masters on Friday.

Playing for the first time since February after undergoing knee surgery, Koepka carded rounds of 74 and 75 to miss the cut at Augusta.

After back-to-back top-10 finishes at the Masters, it marked the first time the four-time major winner had failed to reach the weekend at the tournament.

With the US PGA due to start at Kiawah Island on May 20, Koepka is unsure if that will be his next competitive event.

"It's tough to say right now. That's, what, five weeks ahead, I think? It's kind of tough to say that," he told a news conference.

"I won't miss it, I know that, but tough to say if I'll play anything before that just for how it feels, how rehab goes and everything."

He added: "I wouldn't have been playing for another month if it wasn't this week. So I'll take a nice long break after this.

"Way I look at it, I have two more days to do rehab that I probably wouldn't get if I was out here, and I'll get ready for the PGA."

Koepka, who was playing just his sixth tournament of the year, lamented his putting performance at the Masters.

"Putter was ice cold, didn't make any putts. I don't want to say the speed was off, maybe the reads a little bit. Maybe the start line. I'm not quite sure," he said.

"A lot of them felt like good putts, and they weren't even hitting the hole. I don't know. It could be any one of those things. They felt good coming off the face, but they didn't even sniff it."

Justin Rose felt having words with himself and taking a match-play approach was the turning point as he recovered from a poor start to regain the Masters lead on Friday.

Rose started his second round with a four-shot advantage courtesy of a sublime seven-under 65 at Augusta on Thursday.

The Englishman remained on seven under at the end of his second round following a level-par 72, leading Masters debutant Will Zalatoris and Brian Harman by just a solitary stroke.

Rose bogeyed four of his first seven holes on Friday, but three birdies on the back nine returned the former world number to the top of the leaderboard in his pursuit of a first green jacket.

The 2013 U.S. Open champion was content after turning the tide and revealed he gave himself a talking to on the eighth following a shaky start.

He said: "I had a little talk with myself on eight and said 'you're still leading the Masters', and I just changed my mindset a little bit and started to play match play against the golf course.

"I scratched a line on my scorecard and told myself I was three down and could I go ahead and beat the golf course from that point on. I had a putt on 18 to win my match one-up, but unfortunately it just slipped by. But an honourable draw."

He added: "I felt like the turning point for me, a good two-putt on number nine just to stop the rot and just to feel like could then just walk onto the back nine and try to build something fresh and something new. I actually started to play pretty well from that point onwards."

Birdies proved to be easier to come by for the field than during the first round, with Jordan Spieth and Marc Leishman among those to make strides as they moved into a share of fourth on five under.

Despite seeing his lead reduced, Rose - who has been troubled by a back injury this year - believes he "grew" during a mixed day.

He said: "I think it was a worthwhile day for me. And not having played for a month, and to suddenly find yourself in the situation I was yesterday, I'm not kind of brimming with confidence right now in that sense, so today was always going to be a challenging day.

"I felt like in the end, I felt like I grew a little bit from today, which is good."

Justin Rose mounted a back-nine recovery to finish his second round with a two-shot lead over Jordan Spieth and Marc Leishman.

Rose shot a sublime opening round of 65 at Augusta, but relinquished his four-shot advantage on Friday before returning to the top of the leaderboard with three birdies in his space of four holes.

The Englishman was the man to catch on seven under when he signed for a level-par 72, rallying after bogeying four of the first seven holes in his second round.

Gains at the 13th, 14th and 16th holes gave Rose momentum heading into the weekend as he bids to don the green jacket for the first time.

The in-form Spieth surged into a share of second place with Australian Leishman by carding a four-under 68, with birdies proving easier to come by for the field than on the opening day.

Three-time major champion Spieth, on a high after ending a title drought stretching back to 2017 at the Texas Open last weekend, made four of his five birdies after the turn and only dropped one shot at the 12th.

Leishman also made a significant move, setting the tone by starting with three birdies in row and going on to shoot a five-under 67.

Scintillating six-under rounds of 66 from Bernd Wiesberger and Tony Finau put them just three shots adrift of Rose along with Justin Thomas, who shot a 67.

Will Zalatoris, Brian Harman and Si Woo Kim were also well poised on four under, with their rounds still in progress. Defending champion Dustin Johnson had work to do back on three over through 10.

Bryson DeChambeau responded to a poor opening round with a 67 of his own to sit at one over, while Brooks Koepka (+5) and Rory McIlroy (+6) were facing a battle to make the cut 10 and eight holes into their rounds respectively.

Lee Westwood was a couple of shots below the projected cut mark on five over midway through his round.

Overnight leader Justin Rose was faltering through nine holes of his second round at the Masters on Friday.

The Englishman made light of tricky scoring conditions to shoot a stunning seven-under-par 65 in round one, during which he picked up nine strokes from the eighth hole having played the first seven at two over.

But after starting bogey-birdie on Friday, Rose dropped three more shots before the turn and was at four under for the tournament midway through his second round.

Bernd Wiesberger was only one shot back having gone through 14 holes at five under for the day, while Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman were the same score but yet to begin round two.

Jordan Spieth was only two behind through four holes of his second round, with Marc Leishman among a cluster of players also at -2.

Tommy Fleetwood, Tony Finau and Cameron Smith were all playing the round at three under as the leaderboard bunched up early on Friday, while Justin Thomas was back at level par overall.

The likes of Jon Rahm (E), Dustin Johnson (+2) and Rory McIlroy (+4) are scheduled to tee off later on Friday.

Rory McIlroy's quest for a career Grand Slam may have to wait another year after an underwhelming opening day at the Masters, but he says he was encouraged by the way he finished his round.

The 31-year-old Northern Irishman made six bogeys on the first day at Augusta, finishing with a four-over 76, leaving him well off the pace set by Justin Rose with a seven-under 65.

McIlroy's best ever finish at the Masters was fourth in 2015, having won the 2012 and 2014 US PGA Championship, 2011 U.S. Open and 2014 Open Championship.

"My goal is to play well and at least give myself a chance," McIlroy told a news conference after his opening round.

"Honestly I'm quite encouraged with how I hit it on the way in. I hit some loose shots out there, but after hitting the  six iron in the water on 13, I hit some really good shots coming in, so I'm encouraged by that.

"It was just one of those days where I wasn't very efficient with my scoring.

"You're sort of fighting against momentum, but if you make a birdie then you can sort of get going, and [it was] just one of those days.

"But I hung in there, hit some good shots coming in, could have made a couple more birdies, but it's not as if anyone is going really low out there.

"Hopefully feel a little more comfortable tomorrow, go out there and shoot a good one."

There was a bizarre moment for McIlroy when his approach on the seventh hit an onlooker, which was later revealed to be his father, Gerry.

"It was a perfect shot; it was dead straight but I think he was okay," McIlroy said.

"He didn't limp away. He walked away pretty swiftly, so that was all right."

He added: "I knew it was my dad when I was aiming at him."

Justin Rose "reset" after a tough start at the Masters before firing a stunning seven-under 65 to take the first-round lead on Thursday.

The Englishman produced his best ever round at Augusta, equalling the second largest first-round lead in Masters history with his four-stoke advantage.

Such a position looked unlikely for Rose when he bogeyed the seventh hole to be at two over.

But his response was incredible with an eagle at eight and birdie at nine, before six more birdies followed on the back nine.

Rose said the eagle at the eighth hole was what he needed to settle into the tournament.

"It maybe settled me down if I'm honest. I kind of knew two over through seven is not the end of the world, but also knew you're going in the wrong direction," he told a news conference.

"You can't win the golf tournament today. Even with a 65 you can't win it today. You can only probably lose it today, obviously.

"And I was very aware being a couple over through seven that things weren't – I didn't hit the panic button yet, but I reset just prior to that and thought if I can get myself back around even par, you know, that would be a good day's work.

"So obviously the eagle, boom, straight back in there, and I guess almost just piggybacking with a birdie straightaway at number nine, suddenly I turned in one under, and I could feel like I could actually leave the front nine behind as a job well done and kind of move to the back nine and try and build a score.

"From that point on I kind of was aware that the lead was only three, and if I played a decent back nine it was basically a very good day's work. And then I just got on a great run and was just trying to stay out of my own way and just try to get it to the clubhouse and keep doing what I was doing."

Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, said his putting was key to his incredible round.

"I putted the ball beautifully and read the greens unbelievably well. If you had said to me walking up the eighth hole, I'd have said no chance, this course is playing a little too tricky for that," he said.

"But it's incredible. It's a good reminder that you just never know what can happen out there, just to stick with it on the golf course."

Rose is four strokes clear of Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama.

Justin Rose surged into a four-shot lead as Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau were among the big names to endure first-round struggles at The Masters.

Rose was two over through seven holes in tough scoring conditions, with quicker and firmer Augusta greens proving a much bigger challenge than when Dustin Johnson won the tournament with a record score of 20 under last November.

The Englishman sparked into life with an eagle at the par-five eighth hole and lit up the back nine to card a magnificent seven-under 65, the lowest Masters round of his career, with patrons allowed back in under blue skies.

Rose, eyeing a maiden Masters title, got on a roll with seven birdies in nine holes before finishing with a composed par to retain his four-stroke advantage.

Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama shared the early clubhouse lead with impressive three-under opening rounds of 69 before Rose stormed clear.

Defending champion Johnson shot a two-over 74 following a double bogey at the 18th, having made a bogey-birdie start before getting in the red for the first time at 13.

Masters debutant Will Zalatoris, Webb Simpson, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Patrick Reed will start their second rounds on two under following encouraging starts, while new father Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele are among a clutch of players at level par.

McIlroy suffered a miserable opening round and is back on four over, facing a battle to make the cut rather than fight it out to complete a career Grand Slam, while U.S. Open champion DeChambeau was four over through 15.

Jordan Spieth was left to rue a triple-bogey after launching a wayward tee shot into the trees at the ninth but was in a share of eighth on one under after chipping in for an eagle at 15, while Justin Thomas was a further stroke back through 15.

Brooks Koepka matched Johnson's 74 just a few weeks after undergoing knee surgery and the previously in-form Lee Westwood is languishing on six over.

Tommy Fleetwood generated a roar from those fortunate enough to be at the 16th to see him make a hole-in-one before he signed for a 74.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson failed to hit the ground running in testing conditions when he started the defence of his Masters title on Thursday.

Johnson donned the green jacket for the first time last November, finishing the tournament on a record-breaking 20 under par.

The world number one made only four bogeys as he blew the field away in the 2020 major at Augusta, but he dropped two shots in his opening five holes five months later, with patrons returning under blue skies.

Birdies were at a premium when the tournament got under way on much quicker, firmer greens than those seen in last year's tournament.

Two-time major champion Johnson started by dropping a shot after running through the first green with his second shot. Although he hit straight back with a birdie at the par-five second, Johnson was back at one over after failing to sink a par putt at the fifth.

Hideki Matsuyama led the way on three under through eight holes after draining an eagle putt at the eighth, with Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Si Woo Kim just a shot behind.

New father Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed and Paul Casey were among a host of players on one under following early birdies.

The recently in-form Lee Westwood was struggling on three over through six after a double bogey at the third, while Rory McIlroy dropped to one over with a dropped shot at the fifth and Brooks Koepka was level par eight holes into his first round.

The 85th Masters got under way on Thursday with Dustin Johnson waiting in the wings to defend his title at Augusta.

Honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Elder signalled the opening of the 2021 tournament, which officially began with twosome Michael Thompson and Hudson Swafford teeing off.

Reigning champion Johnson, who secured his second major with an imperious victory in Georgia five months ago, will tee off at 10:30 local time (14:30 GMT) alongside two-time runner-up Lee Westwood and U.S. Amateur Championship winner Tyler Strafaci.

The world number one has earned top-10 finishes at each of his past five Masters outings and holds the tournament scoring record after his stunning 20-under 268 last November.

Johnson is aiming to become the first man since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002 to win consecutive green jackets.

Though Woods is absent as he continues his recovery from a recent car accident, Johnson will face stiff competition from the likes of Jordan Spieth.

The 2015 champion ended a 1,351-day wait for a PGA Tour victory at the Texas Open last week and will head out in the final group to tee off at 14:00 local time (18:00 GMT), along with US PGA Championship victor Collin Morikawa and Cameron Smith.

Rory McIlroy has a career Grand Slam in his sights and his bid to become the sixth golfer to achieve the feat begins with new father Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele for company.

The Northern Irishman is still waiting for a maiden green jacket but boasts a strong record in the event, having finished in the top 10 in six of the last seven editions.

Brooks Koepka will play with Bubba Watson and Viktor Hovland, while Bryson DeChambeau joins Adam Scott and Max Homa.

Justin Thomas, Tony Finau and Louis Oosthuizen form another group, with Sergio Garcia starting alongside Webb Simpson and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, while Patrick Reed will measure himself against Paul Casey and Daniel Berger.

Phil Mickelson, the man with the most major titles (five) in the field as Woods is absent, will appear alongside Tommy Fleetwood and Scottie Scheffler.

What's the greatest achievement in the history of sports?

Is there a more difficult question for any fan to answer? It's such a subjective and divisive topic, and one that cannot truly be measured.

But that doesn't mean it's not fun to argue the toss nonetheless and on this day 20 years ago, Tiger Woods staked his own claim for the moniker by completing the unthinkable.

It was on April 8, 2001, when Woods won the Masters for a second time and by doing so he became the first player to ever be in possession of all four of golf's major trophies at the same time.

Because it was done over two seasons, Woods missed out on a calendar Grand Slam so the phenomenal achievement was dubbed the 'Tiger Slam'.

"It was exciting for everybody," four-time major winner Laura Davies recalled when speaking to Stats Perform News.

"I'm sure it was hard work for him and very mentally difficult for him to win all four in a year. It was just exciting to watch Tiger do it. 

"It just would have been lovely if he'd done it in one year because it's not quite the same but it's still some achievement to hold all four at one time. 

"It was good for the game definitely. I'm a big Tiger fan, I love watching his golf. At the time it was just really exciting and just making golf a more exciting game, more exciting for the younger fans and the game's built because of what he did then."

What Woods did transcended the game and enshrined his name even deeper within the list of all-time sporting greats.

Sadly, Woods will not be at Augusta – where he is a five-time champion – this week due to the injuries he suffered in a serious car accident in Los Angeles in February.

But the magnitude of his achievement will stand the test of time and, two decades on, we have taken a look back at the incredible 'Tiger Slam'.


U.S. Open 2000: Taking apart Pebble Beach

"My words probably can't describe it, so I'm not even going to try."

While Ernie Els, who took a distant share of second at the 2000 U.S. Open struggled to sum up Woods' utter domination at Pebble Beach, we should probably at least try.

Having already blasted into a six-shot lead through two rounds thanks to scores of 65 and 69, it was on the Saturday where Woods' class really told.

As the rest of the field struggled badly in wild playing conditions, Woods recovered from a triple bogey at the third to finish the round at level par and take the lead by 10 strokes – the largest 54-hole advantage at a U.S. Open.

If that's not impressive enough for you, then a closing 67 meant Woods was 15 shots clear of Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez. And, no, that is not a typo.


The Open 2000: Sensational at St Andrews 

There was a sense of deja vu at The Open just a month later.

There was a sense of deja vu at The Open just a month later.

Poor gags aside, it truly was remarkable to see Woods in full pomp completely in command of the Old Course at St Andrews – the spiritual home of golf.

Opening with a 67 to sit one shy of leader Els, by the end of Friday's play Woods was three shots clear. By the end of Saturday that lead had doubled to six.

A closing 69 wrapped up victory by eight from Els and Thomas Bjorn, with Woods becoming the youngest person to complete golf's Grand Slam in history.

"It wasn't long ago when I said there'd never be another Jack Nicklaus but we're looking at one. He is the chosen one," Mark Calcavecchia said of Woods at the time.


US PGA Championship 2000: Play-off glory at Valhalla

There wasn't quite the same level of domination for 2000's season-ending major at the US PGA Championship but there was a familiar outcome at Valhalla. 

Having led or co-led through three rounds, there was a ding-dong battle on the final day with Bob May, who missed a crucial birdie putt at the 15th on the same hole Woods made a clutch par.

Another gain from Woods at the 17th left them tied going up the last. May drained a 15-footer for birdie, but Woods sank his own pressure putt to force a three-hole play-off.

A birdie at the first additional hole was followed by two pars and that proved enough for Woods to join Ben Hogan as the only player to win three majors in one season.

"Tiger plays a different game than we play," May said after his defeat, with Woods saying of the win: "We never backed off. We went birdie-for-birdie, shot-for-shot. It was a very special day."


Masters 2001: The Tiger Slam

After opening with a steady 70, Woods was five shots back of first-round leader Chris DiMarco but scores of 66 and 68 had him leading by one from Phil Mickelson heading into the final round.

Mickelson was part of a star-studded leaderboard including Calcavecchia, DiMarco, Angel Cabrera, David Duval and Els – all of whom were within three of Woods.

Duval made a good fist of the challenge and even briefly tied for the lead by birdieing the 15th – only to give that shot straight back.

Needing only a par at the last, Woods finished with a birdie for a two-shot win to complete a truly epic moment of sporting history.

A sleep-deprived Jon Rahm is confident he can mount a strong challenge for a first major title following the "major life experience" of becoming a father last weekend.

The world number three will tee off at Augusta on Thursday just five days after his wife, Kelley, gave birth to baby Kepa.

Doting new dad Rahm has been relieved of diaper-changing duties to make the trip to Georgia for the first major of the year.

Rahm is among the favourites to don the green jacket on Sunday and, despite only arriving on the eve of the tournament, the Spaniard fancies his chances of celebrating his new arrival by experiencing his finest hour on a golf course.

"My concern is that I'm coming to a Masters, and from Thursday to Monday didn't sleep much, didn't hit a single golf shot," he said.

"You know, maybe I haven't prepared as much as I have in the past, but definitely I'm mentally in a different state.

"A lot of times practicing for a major you spend so much time thinking about golf, and for four or five days, it wasn't even on my mind, which is kind of refreshing.

"Coming here later than usual, but I'm here ready to compete. I wouldn't be here otherwise."

He added: "I'm not concerned. I went through a major life experience. If anything I'm just happier. I'm thankful to be here. If anything, definitely a different mental state, but I would say it's a better mental state."

Rahm revealed he had not been to Augusta since he finished in a tie for seventh in the Masters last November, but says that will not be an issue.

He said: "The course hasn't changed. I might need to spend a little bit of extra time today hitting lag putts and hitting some chips because the last time we played here it was a little softer and slower, but tee to green it doesn't really change much.

"Luckily I've played here before, and I always have a good vibe when I come here."

Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele will tee off for their first round at 10:42 local time.

Dustin Johnson has had little time to revel in the success of his record-breaking Masters triumph last November.

The world number one became the first player in the tournament's illustrious history to win with a score of 20 under par.

But the coronavirus pandemic meant the event could not be held in its usual April slot, with Johnson's triumph achieved amid an Autumnal rather than Spring backdrop.

This year, though, the action takes place at the traditional point in the calendar. So, here we are for the first major of 2021 and the expert team at Stats Perform News have picked out their favourites for the green jacket.

GEAR UP FOR THE SPIETH SHOW – Peter Hanson

Here is a statement of fact (okay, actually it's an opinion): golf is much more fun when Jordan Spieth is in the groove. We all know it to be true. And recently, boy have there been some tantalising moments to suggest Spieth will be flying at Augusta – a place where you could fill a lengthy highlight reel with his brilliance from years gone by. A rancid run of form saw Spieth ranked as low as 92nd earlier this year following a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. However, four top-10 finishes from six events preceded a victory at the Valero Texas Open at the weekend – his first tournament win since triumphing at The Open four years ago. Spieth is always great viewing at a venue where he was champion in 2015 and has recorded three other top-three finishes. Key to success for Spieth will be if he can get the putter firing. On the PGA Tour this season, he ranks fifth for one-putt average, while his 27.91 putts per round tallies fourth.

BRYSON REVOLUTIONISED THE SPORT, NOW HE'LL WEAR GREEN - Dan Lewis

Having helped to revolutionise the sport en route to winning the US Open seven months ago, Bryson DeChambeau will now be looking to put his power game to good use with a second major title. The 27-year-old will certainly better his previous best finish of 21st in 2016 and, if he can continue to improve his putting, he has a serious shot of unseating Johnson.

THERE'S NO CURE QUITE LIKE WINNING FOR RORY – John Skilbeck

Who was that lurking in 39th place on the FedEx Cup standings last week? Is there another Rory McIlroy or is this where we are? By now, many thought we would be in an era of McIlroy domination, given the prowess he showed in his early twenties, but those predictions have been skewered, with McIlroy struggling to mount sustained title challenges in the majors. His career card shows plenty of top-10 finishes at the very elite level, but, since landing his fourth major at the 2014 US PGA Championship, the Northern Irishman has often been chasing essentially lost causes. There have been rounds which have amounted almost to self-sabotage, such as the closing 74 when he was genuinely in the hunt three years ago at Augusta, or the 75 with which he began last year. With coach Pete Cowen now on board, McIlroy is actively looking for remedies. There's no cure quite like winning.

DON'T IGNORE THE OBVIOUS, DJ CAN MASTER AUGUSTA AGAIN – Ben Spratt

Are we ignoring the obvious? Dustin Johnson is the Masters favourite and rightfully so. Since winning on his last trip to Augusta in November, DJ triumphed at the Saudi International on the European Tour but his PGA form has been mixed – just one top-10 finish from five tournaments. But no other golfer has had the benefit of returning to the scene of their triumph just five months later. Johnson did not just squeak to victory in November either; his 20-under 268 for the week broke Masters records and secured a five-stroke advantage. Do not bet against him mastering Augusta again.

IT'S NOW OR NEVER FOR VETERAN WESTWOOD – Pat Ridge

Westwood has never won a major, but he is in excellent form heading to Augusta. He just missed out to Bryson DeChambeau at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, losing by one shot – his best result on the PGA Tour since he tied for second at the 2016 Masters. He followed that up with a second-placed finish at The Players Championship, and it could be a case if not now, then will it ever happen for the 47-year-old? A strong performance will also do his Ryder Cup chances no harm, as he looks to match Nick Faldo’s record of 11 appearances for Europe.

NEW FATHER RAHM CAN JOIN NEW WINNERS' CLUB – Chris Myson

Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau were first-time winners in golf's majors in 2020. Going further back, 12 of the last 19 winners had never before won a major, while seven of the last 10 champions at Augusta was triumphing at one of the big four events for a first time. This could be Jon Rahm's turn to continue those trends. While first-time winners have been prominent, nine of the last 10 Masters winners had landed a top-six major finish in the previous two years before breaking their duck. Rahm, who recently became a father for the first time, came in a tie for third at the 2019 U.S. Open and has three straight top-10 finishes to his name at Augusta. He has recent form too. In seven events in 2021, Rahm has five top-10s and is yet to miss a cut.

Rory McIlroy said golf's biggest stars must rally around Tiger Woods by making regular trips to his Florida mansion and he would love to be part of the sport's Grand Slam club by his next visit.

After winning an Open Championship, a U.S. Open and two US PGA Championships early in his career, McIlroy returns to Augusta for another shot at Masters glory this week.

Woods, who suffered serious leg injuries in a February car crash, would love to be involved but is recovering at home after that brush with disaster and hopes to play competitive golf again.

The American superstar became the first player since the 1960s to win all four of the sport's majors in his career when he landed the Open title in 2000 at St Andrews.

With 15 career majors, Woods is unmistakably an all-time great, and McIlroy would become just the sixth player to achieve the modern Grand Slam should he land green jacket glory. Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Gary Player are the players who achieved the feat before Woods came on the scene.

Speaking about the absent Woods ahead of Thursday's opening round, former world number one McIlroy said: "Hopefully, if his recovery goes well, who knows, he could be back in 12 months' time.

"He's always missed when he doesn't play in these big events, and that doesn't change this week, whether it's to do with his back or his leg or whatever it is.

"I know he's at home and he's fully focused on the recovery process, and I feel like he's mentally strong enough to get through that. And once he does, broken bones heel, and he's just got to take it step by step.

"I'm sure he's going to put everything he has into trying to be ready to play here next year. I went over and saw him, spent a couple hours with him, which was nice. It was good to see him. It was good to see him in decent spirits.

"When you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, you think he's going to be in a hospital bed for six months. But he was actually doing better than that. A few of us that live down in South Florida went to see him. I'm sure he appreciates that.

"I think myself, JT [Justin Thomas], Rickie [Fowler], DJ [Dustin Johnson], Brooks [Koepka], all those guys down there, we all have a responsibility to try to keep his spirits up and keep him going and try to get him back out here."

Nothing would give McIlroy more pleasure than being able to visit Woods as a Masters champion, with that Grand Slam monkey off his back. He has six top-10 finishes at the event in the last seven years, which shows what he has to offer.

The Masters is the mountain he has been unable to quite climb, meaning the 'Rory Slam' has yet to be completed.

"If I were able to do it, I'd join a very small list of golfers in history that have been able to do it. So I know where it would put me in the game and how cool it would be, and I would love to do it one day," McIlroy said.

"But for me to do that, I just have to go out and try to play four good rounds of golf on this golf course. I've played a bunch of really good rounds on this golf course before, but just not four in a row."

McIlroy revealed his visit to Woods' home in late March was an eye-opener, in terms of learning how his friend and rival has approached competing over the years.

"In his family room he's got his trophy cabinet and it's his 15 major trophies. I said, 'That's really cool. Where are all the others?'," McIlroy said.

"He said, 'I don't know'. I go, 'What?'. He said, 'Yeah, my mom has some, and a few are in the office and a few are wherever'."

It struck McIlroy, as he was driving home from that visit, that the majors were the be-all and end-all for Woods.

"I'm just thinking to myself, how easy must that have felt for him if all he cared about were four weeks a year. The other stuff must have been like practice. So that's like a really cool perspective to have, right," McIlroy said.

"That's all I could think about on the way home. And I was glad he was OK, too."

McIlroy has been working with coach Pete Cowen on simplifying his technique, saying he is "just at the start of a journey here that I know will get me back to where I want to be".

Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson is also taking part this week, the 50-year-old being a U.S. Open short of a Grand Slam himself.

His prospects of completing the full set look to be slim given he is not the force he once was, but Mickelson has the capacity to surprise and would love another Augusta challenge.

Many consider McIlroy's game to be well suited to The Masters, and Mickelson always knew his own skillset was perfect for the course.

"I never really doubted that I would end up winning this tournament," Mickelson said on Tuesday. "This is a course that is very well suited for the way I grew up playing, but that joy of winning it for the first time, finally breaking through, it's beyond belief."

Tiger Woods is "bummed" to be missing The Masters after his car crash in February, friend and practice partner Justin Thomas has revealed.

Five-time Augusta champion Woods will be watching from home this week rather than taking to the course he knows so well.

The golf great was involved in a single-vehicle incident six weeks ago that saw his car roll "several hundred feet".

Woods required surgery on serious leg injuries, while an officer from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in the aftermath the 45-year-old was "very fortunate" to survive.

It was just the latest setback in a superstar career and means Woods is absent from The Masters for the fourth time in eight years, although he did win the tournament in 2019.

There had been appearances from Woods at each of the prior 19 editions of The Masters, while he was the last man to retain the green jacket with back-to-back triumphs in 2001 and 2002 and is one of only five to have celebrated a career Grand Slam, this week marking 20 years since his 'Tiger Slam'.

Woods posted on Twitter on Tuesday: "I'll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA's bill at the Champions Dinner tonight. It's still one of my favorite nights of the year."

Thomas, who regularly practises with Woods and Fred Couples ahead of the Augusta major, said at a news conference: "I went over and saw him a couple times last week and try to go over a couple times during the week whenever I'm home and see him.

"We texted Friday morning, and he said it's kind of starting to set in. He's bummed he's not here playing practice rounds with us, and we hate it, too.

"I'm very, very lucky that I somehow got thrown into that practice-round group with Tiger and Freddie the last four years or whatever it is, especially around this place.

"I just follow them around like puppy dogs. Wherever they go, that's where I go after it. If they hit chips from somewhere, I go hit chips from there.

"It's no coincidence they have been so successful here, but they are also just great guys to be around. I definitely miss that part."

Thomas added: "[Couples] didn't feel like getting up in the early cold weather this morning, so I made sure to give him some grief.

"I don't know if he would have bailed on me if Tiger was with me, but he did on me."

Couples posted on his own Twitter page: "Thinking of my guy @tigerwoods during this week @themasters. I'll miss you tonight at dinner. Not the same without you."

Thomas, who has improved his Masters finish every year since his 2016 debut and came fourth last year, has been grouped with Tony Finau and Louis Oosthuizen for a 13:48 EDT start on Thursday.

Couples will play with Francesco Molinari and amateur Charles Osborne, teeing off at 12:24 EDT.

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