Rory McIlroy may not have been at his imperious best ahead of this year’s Masters, but recent history suggests it’s possible to triumph in Augusta without being in peak form.
The Northern Irish ace has endured a sluggish start to 2016, failing to win a title and even missing the cut in February’s Honda Classic.
By contrast, his main rivals for the Green Jacket have all picked up victories so far this year; world No3 McIlroy is the only player in the top six yet to record a tournament win.
Yet that has not stopped players in the past from winning the first Major of the year.
In fact, since 1990 exactly 50 per cent of Masters winners had not lifted another trophy in the opening months of the year ahead of the tournament.
Jordan Spieth’s memorable season last year saw him win two titles before he wowed the world in becoming the second-youngest Masters winner ever, equalling Tiger Woods’s 72-hole record of 18 under par.
But before the Texan’s triumph, six of the previous 10 Masters winners won their first title of the year at Augusta.
In the last 26 years, only five players have won the Masters off the back of two title wins so far that year, while eight did so with one title already to their name, and 13 did so with none at all.
Even more encouragingly for McIlroy, a number of recent winners had not recorded a top-five, or even top-10, finish ahead of the Major.
McIlroy, however, has already recorded three top-five finishes and four top-10 finishes this year.
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Since 1990, Masters winners have averaged just over two top-five finishes and three top-10 finishes in the year’s prior events.
Between 2007 and 2010 all four Masters winners – Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera and Phil Mickelson – won without registering a top-five finish ahead of the tournament, while Immelman had not even made the top 10.
McIlroy scored his best ever Masters finish in fourth last year, on the back of impressive form which included one title and two top five finishes.