World No3 Rory McIlroy insists he faces even more pressure this year to win the Masters – and complete a coveted career grand slam – than he did 12 months ago.
The Northern Irishman, who will be the last of all 89 players to tee off in Thursday’s opening round, remains desperate to join a select group of just five men to have won all four Majors.
Expectation was at fever pitch last year with McIlroy on a hat-trick after scooping the Open and US PGA Championship in 2014, only for Jordan Spieth to win the first of his own back-to-back Majors.
McIlroy’s 12-under-par score was enough to earn him fourth place – his best finish yet at Augusta – and he is anxious to improve on that this week and relieve himself of a burden.
“If I can win a Green Jacket and become just the sixth player in history to win a grand slam then I would retire happy knowing I have joined an exclusive list,” he said.
“Every year I go to Augusta and haven’t won, the pressure will build and build. Hopefully I can get that little monkey off my back, and then I’d just free-wheel it after that. A year on from the hype that surrounded me, I feel I will know how to deal with it better. Having that experience will definitely help me this time.”
McIlroy, who must also contend with the demons of his back-nine collapse five years ago, will play alongside Germany’s Martin Kaymer and American Bill Haas in the final group to start the first round.
Defending champion Spieth is among the early starters in a group that also includes England’s Paul Casey, while favourite and world No1 Jason Day plays alongside American Matt Kuchar and veteran Ernie Els.
Key first round tee-times
2.48 Jordan Spieth (US), Paul Casey (Eng), Bryson De Chambeau (amateur)
3.54 Justin Rose (Eng), Jamie Donaldson (Wal), Daniel Berger (US)
4.05 Adam Scott (Aus), Kevin Kisner (US), Brooks Koepka (US)
5.44 Branden Grace (SA), Bubba Watson (US), Ian Poulter (Eng)
6.06 Jason Day (Aus), Matt Kuchar (US), Ernie Els (SA)
7.01 Martin Kaymer (Ger), Bill Haas (US), Rory McIlroy (NIR)
All times GMT