Sport

Rory McIlroy the man to beat at the Masters says Jack Nicklaus

Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy putt on the second hole during a practice round for the Masters on Wednesday
By Phil Casey, Press Association Sport Golf Correspondent

JACK Nicklaus believes Rory McIlroy is the man to beat in the Masters as he seeks to complete the career grand slam with a victory at Augusta National.

A resurgent Tiger Woods, 2015 winner Jordan Spieth, US PGA champion Justin Thomas and world number one Dustin Johnson are among the favourites for the year's first major championship.

But six-time Masters champion Nicklaus feels McIlroy should be top of the betting market following his impressive victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month.

"I talked to him this weekend and saw a few things and he is really swinging well, the best I've ever seen him swing," Nicklaus said. "He obviously putted very well at Bay Hill so he's going to be tough to beat.

"If you picked anybody he'd be the number one to pick and rightly so. He's probably playing better than anyone else."

McIlroy admits he feels the pressure of attempting to join Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen as the only players to have won all four major titles.

But Nicklaus believes the Masters is the easiest one to win due to the limited field and type of game which suits Augusta National.

"You play it every year, you can prepare for it easier, once you play the greens you should know them," Nicklaus told the Golf Channel. "If you're not a long, high-ball player you can eliminate half the field before you even start.

"No tournament is easy to win, don't misunderstand me, but of the majors a top player has a better shot here than any other place."

THURSDAY'S FIRST ROUND TEE TIMES AT THE MASTES

1.30pm: A Cook (US), T Potter Jr (US), W Bryan (US)

1.41pm: I Woosnam (Wal), R Moore (US), J Vegas (Ven)

1.52pm: M Weir (Can), B Steele (US) M Parziale (US)

2.03pm: JM Olazabal (Spa), K Chappell (US), D Frittelli (SA)

2.14pm: B DeChambeau (US), B Wiesberger (Aut), M Fitzpatrick (Eng)

2.25pm: M O’Meara (US), B Harman (US), H Ellis (Eng)

2.36pm: V Singh (Fij), S Kodaira (Jpn), D Berger (US)

2.47pm: K Aphibarnrat (Tha), P Perez (US), F Molinari (Ita)

2.58pm: D Willett (Eng), K Stanley (US), J Dufner (US)

3.09pm: H Matsuyama (Jpn), P Kizzire (US), P Casey (Eng)

3.31pm: Z Johnson (US), M Kaymer (Ger), B Grace (SA)

3.42pm: T Woods (US), M Leishman (Aus), T Fleetwood (Eng)

3.53pm: S Garcia (Spa), J Thomas (US), D Redman (US)

4.04pm: B Watson (US), H Stenson (Swe), J Day (Aus)

4.15pm: P Reed (US), C Hoffman (US), A Hadwin (Can)

4.26pm: B Horschel (US), C Reavie (US), C Smith (Aus)

4.37pm: S Lyle (Sco), K Si-woo (Kor), D Ghim (US)

4.48pm: T Immelman (SA), I Poulter (Eng), P Cantlay (US)

4.59pm: A Cabrera (Arg), R Fisher (Eng), J Walker (US)

5.10pm: F Couples (US), Li Hao Tong (Chn), J Niemann (Chi)

5.32pm: L Mize (US), R Henley (US), S Sharma (Ind)

5.43pm: B Langer (Ger), T Finau (US), Y Ikeda (Jpn)

5.54pm: C Schwartzel (SA), W Simpson (US), Lin Yuxin (Chn)

6.05pm: K Kisner (US), T Pieters (Bel), X Schauffele (US)

6.16pm: G Woodland (US), Y Miyazato (Jpn), T Hatton (Eng)

6.27pm: P Mickelson (US), R Fowler (US), M Kuchar (US)

6.38pm: A Scott (Aus), R McIlroy (NI), J Rahm (Spa)

6.49pm: J Spieth (US), A Noren (Swe), L Oosthuizen (SA)

7pm: J Rose (Eng), D Johnson (US), R Cabrera-Bello (Spa)

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