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The Masters: Can Rory McIlroy win elusive fifth major and complete Grand Slam at Augusta National?

Rory McIlroy is looking to become the sixth player in history to win the career Grand Slam; Scottie Scheffler returns as defending champion and reigning world No 1; Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth among others in contention; watch live from April 6-9 exclusively live on Sky Sports Golf

Rory McIlroy once again arrives at The Masters as one of the pre-tournament favourites, but is 2023 finally the year he claims a long-awaited win at Augusta National and joins golf’s Grand Slam club?

The Northern Irishman has been unable to add to his major tally since winning his fourth at the 2014 PGA Championship, a month on from lifting the Claret Jug at The Open, although is widely expected to contend again to win an elusive Green Jacket.

McIlroy holds an impressive record at the opening major of the year, with a runner-up finish in the 2022 contest - where he carded a final-round 64 - the highlight of seven top-10 finishes in his 14 previous appearances.

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Rory McIlroy completes his incredible final round by holing a brilliant bunker shot for birdie at the 2022 Masters

His performance at The Masters last year sparked a significant upturn in form, with McIlroy winning the Wells Fargo Championship a month later and then defending his RBC Canadian Open title on his way to securing the FedExCup for a record third time.

McIlroy finished no worse than eighth in all four majors in 2022 and added a CJ Cup title defence later in the year, while a consistent streak - including a share of second behind Shane Lowry at the BMW PGA Championship - saw him top the season-long standings on the DP World Tour.

A winning start to the year the Hero Dubai Desert Classic was followed by a disappointing week at the WM Phoenix Open, with McIlroy also failing to contend at the Genesis Invitational a week later after struggling with a replacement driver.

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Highlights from the final round of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club, where Rory McIlroy impressed

McIlroy also switched putters after an early exit at The Players and reportedly needed just 19 putts during a practice round at Augusta National, having lost around half a stroke on the greens during the season, then noticed improvements in both areas at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

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After winning all three of his group matches, McIlroy came through final-hole wins against Lucas Herbert and Xander Schauffele before losing his semi-final against Cameron Young on the first extra hole.

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Highlights of Rory McIlroy's semi-final exit in the WGC Match Play as Cameron Young reaches the final

Masters victory would see him become just the sixth player to complete golf's career Grand Slam and the first since Tiger Woods in 2000, with several of the Sky Sports team fully expecting to see McIlroy join that group.

Paul McGinley: "I love where McIlroy is at with his putting and now things have settled down off the golf course, I think he's riding a little bit of a wave going in.

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"I think he is more prepared now than he has been over the last 10 years to win The Masters. His game is better shape and he's a more complete player, physically and mentally, than he has been before."

Nick Dougherty: "Like so many, I just want it to really badly happen. I just feel like as much as I root for a lot of players in the game, I love watching McIlroy play and I just feel like he has served his apprenticeship in trying to get into the Grand Slam club.

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Rory McIlroy says he's happy with his game heading into The Masters, as he reveals he shot 19 putts in a practice round at Augusta

"He plays well on the golf course, he just hasn't got the job done there yet. I think we're seeing enough in his game and there have been some tweaks in recent times, so if he finds the putter at Augusta then the rest of the game looks like it is where it needs to be."

Rich Beem: "I'm probably in everyone's corner when I say McIlroy. From what I saw at the Match Play there are certain things about his game that were so good and the No 1 of those was possibly his imagination and shots around the greens. That is exactly what you need around Augusta."

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Ewen Murray: "I think that it's his [McIlroy's] turn. He has had many goes, there has been a lot of pressure and I think he will be able to cope with that pressure. He has been playing well enough to go there with an excellent chance. He knows the course as well as anyone, so I think it's his time."

Sarah Stirk: "I know that McIlroy winning is a popular opinion, but it would be amazing to see him win the career Grand Slam and the signs are generally positive. He struggled at The Players but that's course he has notoriously had mixed results on.

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The big names at Augusta reflect on their favourite Masters traditions

"He made some adjustments with his driver and I think the confidence his back. He's a better golfer than he has ever been and he has made massive improvements with his short game I think everyone agrees it's just a question of when, rather than if."

Successful defence for Scheffler?

Scheffler's Masters success was part of a dominant winning streak for the American last year, with a maiden major title his fourth win in six starts, while the world No 1 has continued to impress on the PGA Tour since securing the Green Jacket.

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Highlights from day four of the 2022 Masters at Augusta National, where Scottie Scheffler impressed to claim a maiden major title

The 26-year-old has finished no worse than 12th in his last 10 starts and has already enjoyed one successful title defence in 2023, winning the WM Phoenix Open by two shots, while Scheffler's comfortable Players Championship victory last month was his sixth title in just over 13 months.

Scheffler has also contended at the Arnold Palmer Championship and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in recent weeks, so it would be little surprise to see him challenging at the top of the leaderboard once again at Augusta National.

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Nicklaus, Sir Nick Faldo and Woods are the only players to have enjoyed back-to-back victories at The Masters, with Scheffler now the latest to have the chance to join an exclusive club.

Dame Laura Davies: "I think he [Scheffler] is the obvious choice and I love the way he is playing. He's aggressive when he needs to be, never backs down and takes pins on. If you're prepared to do that around Augusta to get yourself in the right spots on the greens, then putting becomes slightly easier."

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Scottie Scheffler made the most of his five-shot advantage on the 18th green as he four-putted for a double bogey to win his first major

Easter delight for Spieth?

Jordan Spieth suffered a surprise early exit at The Masters last year, missing the cut after rounds of 74 and 76, although the former world No 1 is a popular pick to challenge for a fourth major title this week.

Spieth cruised to a record-breaking win in 2015 and finished runner-up a year later, throwing away a five-shot lead on the back nine to hand Danny Willett victory, with the 29-year-old having five top-three finishes in his impressive Augusta record.

Jordan Spieth signals his caddy on No. 17 to call for a ruling by an Rules Official during the final round of the Valero Texas Open golf tournament in San Antonio, Sunday, April 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
Image: Can Jordan Spieth add a fourth major victory this week?

He has three top-10 finishes already on the PGA Tour this year, with Spieth now looking to follow successes at the 2021 Valero Texas Open and 2022 RBC Heritage by winning on Easter Sunday for third consecutive year.

Wayne Riley: "Spieth is trending in the right direction, gets it up and down out of ball washers and is putting well once again. He is a former champion at Augusta and I feel like it's his time to add to his major tally."

Who will win the Green Jacket? Watch The Masters throughout the week live on Sky Sports Golf! Live coverage of the opening round begins on Thursday from 2pm on Sky Sports Golf.

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