Dip in form, Day and McIlroy among obstacles as Spieth seeks Masters defence


It says much for the present depth in quality in professional golf that there is no clear favourite to win the Masters. 

Just 12 months after Jordan Spieth fulfilled his undoubted promise to triumph at Augusta, having finished second on his maiden appearance the previous year, who wins the green jacket this time around is anyone's guess.

Spieth will certainly be expected to challenge, but goes into his first major as defending champion in questionable form having failed to record a top-five finish since coming second at the Singapore Open in January.

Then there is the small matter of the presence of world number one Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, who - along with the 22-year-old Texan - headline a field boasting 28 major champions and 10 players who have been world number one.

McIlroy, again bidding to complete a career Grand Slam at The Masters, posted top-five finishes at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and WGC-Dell Match Play last month, but of the world-leading triumvirate it is Day who approaches Augusta in the best form.

Day, who finally broke his major duck with victory in the US PGA Championship last August, comes into this event on the back of victories in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Dell Match Play.

Despite the Australian's impressive recent results, Gary Player - a three-time winner of the green jacket - says there is no one outstanding favourite in a field also featuring in-form recent Masters champions such as Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel.

"I don't think you can say one man is the man to beat at Augusta this year," Player told Omnisport.

"You've got Rory McIlroy, if he wins it, he will join the five of us [Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods] to win the Grand Slam. That will be very, very nice and it will be very good for golf.

"You've got Jason Day who has a marvellous swing and is a terrific golfer, he will come very close. I think that he could win the Masters. He's been second.

"Jordan Spieth, the best putter in the world today. That's always a big asset. The man who is a big putter is usually the man who excels the best. We've got many young guys, then we've got Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson, a host of fellas that could win. It's going to be a very, very exciting Masters this year."

Although four-time champion Tiger Woods will miss the tournament as he continues his rehabilitation from back surgery, Watson is one of four multiple winners in the field having triumphed in 2012 and 2014. Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson also have a pair of green jackets to their name and Phil Mickelson has three.

But, while that quartet will all be bidding for further glory at a happy hunting ground, 16-year-old Paul Chaplet will be experiencing a major for the first time in his fledgling career after winning the Latin America Amateur Championship.

Chaplet will be the second-youngest player to have competed at The Masters and the first Costa Rican to tee off in the tournament.

Time will tell how far Chaplet can go in the game but he can have no better form of inspiration then competing alongside the likes of Day, Spieth and McIlroy.

If the top three players in the world rankings can produce their best, a thrilling battle is in store on arguably the biggest stage in golf.