Nick Dougherty insists Rory McIlroy WILL win the Masters, believes ‘magic man’ Tiger Woods makes the impossible possible but cannot top his 2019 triumph… and claims social pariah Phil Mickelson deserves forgiveness
- Rory McIlroy has spent the last seven years in pursuit of a career Grand Slam
- Nick Dougherty claims McIlroy has the best chance to win the Masters this year
- The former professional insists being under the radar will help the 32-year-old
- Tiger Woods pulled off one of the greatest comebacks at the 2019 Masters
- And Dougherty claims a spectacular return this year could not top the triumph
- The Masters will be shown exclusively on Sky Sports Golf from April 4-10
For seven years Rory McIlroy has been trying to become the sixth golfer, and only the second after Tiger Woods since 1966, to complete the career Grand Slam.
For seven years headlines have followed the Northern Irishman to Augusta National. And for seven years, the coveted green jacket has eluded him.
But Sky Sports Golf expert Nick Dougherty is adamant McIlroy will win eventually the Masters and this year could very well be the year he does.
Sky Sports Golf expert Nick Dougherty is adamant Rory McIlroy (pictured) will win the Masters
McIlroy’s last major triumph came eight years ago at the 2014 US PGA Championship
He was ex-professional Dougherty’s (above) pick for 2022’s first major at the start of the year
Dougherty, who made a Masters appearance in 2008, admits the 32-year-old may not be a favourite in comparison to his fellow Europeans Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland but claims that might just be the key to a victory.
‘He was my pick at the start of the year to win the Masters,’ says Dougherty.
‘I played golf with him Seminole the week of the Honda with him and his dad and Radar. I looked at him and I just thought you have it all.
‘He has absolutely everything he needs. And let’s be honest, a golf game that’s pretty good for Augusta National.
‘There’s been enough evidence for me so far this year that he can get the job done.
‘But I like the fact that he won’t be a headline. Obviously he can complete the Grand Slam, but people won’t sit there and honestly think he’s more of favourite than Jon Rahm.
‘He’s probably not as much of a favourite as Viktor Hovland. He’s probably the third or fourth highest out of the Europeans alone. I think that will help him to go under the radar little bit.
McIlroy may not be a favourite in comparison to his fellow Europeans Jon Rahm (left) and Viktor Hovland (right)
‘I think he’s playing well enough to do it this time around. If he does do it, I think it’ll be a glorious day for golf.’
‘It’s ironic, the very first major he should have won should have been this one but he is going to win this. He is going to win the Masters.’
Last year, McIlroy looked lost as he headed to Augusta and he ultimately suffered only the second missed cut of his Masters career, and the first since 2010.
But with coach Michael Bannon back on board he is showing shades of his former major-winning self.
That’s not to say McIlroy is striking gold round after round – just look back to his back-nine collapse in Dubai.
But his game is certainly heading in the right direction and with a few tweaks Dougherty believes he has the potential to slip on the green jacket and open the floodgates.
‘There’s a few little tweaks to be made,’ Dougherty adds. ‘I just hope it (McIlroy’s game) is ready in time. I certainly believe he has the potential to win there this time around.
‘I’ve just got a feeling it’s his best chance to win a major. I just feel it will open the floodgates for him again.’
McIlroy missed out on the Dubai Desert Classic in January by a shot after finding water on 18
While McIlroy may be under the radar this year, there is one name that is certainly not eluding the headlines.
It’s not new World No 1 Scottie Scheffler. It’s not the likes of McIlroy, Dustin Johnson or Bryson DeChambeau. It’s not even golf’s social pariah Phil Mickelson.
It’s a man who just a few weeks ago had an outside chance of even playing – Tiger Woods.
Tiger Woods headed to Augusta National on Sunday ahead of his decision to play this week
Five back operations, five knee operations, and countless procedures to rebuild the right leg that surgeons feared they would have to amputate following a car crash that he was lucky to escape from alive.
But Woods has kept the entire golfing world in suspense as he awaits to make his final decision on whether he will make a sensational return at the Masters.
On Sunday, the 46-year-old confirmed he would be heading to Augusta to continue his preparation ahead of this week’s tournament and make a game-time decision on whether he competes.
Dougherty confesses he is excited at the prospect of the 15-time major champion’s return but admits he is reluctant to get his hopes up.
The five-time champion will continue to prepare but Dougherty is reluctant to get his hopes up
‘I want to say I’m very excited about it happening, but I can’t honestly say I am,’ Dougherty says. ‘I don’t think he will. I think it goes against everything (he’s said).’
But the former European Tour professional claims it shouldn’t be entirely ruled out as the ‘magic man’ makes the impossible possible.
‘I’m not saying he can go there with a great chance of winning, but I’m certainly thinking I wouldn’t want to be betting against him missing the cut,’ he says.
‘His game is fine. There would be a bit of rust. But Tiger does things that you’re not supposed to do. That’s his MO in life. With his golf, he’s just the guy who makes the impossible possible.
‘But if it is true about the leg, and that is really an issue for him walking. This is the worst place because it is so hilly.
‘You couldn’t get a flatter golf course than the Old Course and unless something happens negatively with his prep and his ongoing recovery with his leg, I can’t see him missing the Open.
‘But again, it’s Tiger Woods. You never know. That’s the magic man.’
Woods pulled off one of the greatest sporting comebacks when he won the Masters in 2019
Woods pulled off one of the greatest sporting comebacks when he won his fifth Masters in 2019 from the depths of physical despair.
Woods had already won 14 majors but his 15th capped them all as he overcame a persistent troublesome back to become a Masters champion again.
And despite, the prospect of the golfing great beating the odds to simply play again, never mind win, Dougherty admits, as a ‘selfish’ fan only the Open could beat the 2019 triumph.
‘I’m not sure he can top 2019,’ he says. ‘Maybe winning the Open at St Andrews again and then retiring.
‘I need him as a selfish fan to retire on top, but I just need him to be the guy that I’ll just remember as a hero.’
As Woods heads to Augusta, there is one former champion who will not be joining him on the drive down Magnolia Lane.
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson is set to miss the Masters for the first time since 1994 as he continues his self-imposed exile.
The lefty has been left mired in shame following the fallout of his controversial comments regarding the Saudi-backed Super League.
Earlier this year, he suffered a spectacular downfall after he staunchly supported the breakaway league and called out the PGA Tour for their ‘obnoxious greed’ before branding the Saudis ‘scary motherf*****s’.
Former champion Phil Mickelson will miss the Masters for the first time since 1994
Amid the current controversy, Dougherty insists there must be sanctions for professionals who act out of line but urges golf to offer Mickelson an opportunity to find a place within the game again.
‘People make mistakes in their life and I do think that you should be allowed the opportunity, if you choose, to seek forgiveness and to have an opportunity to try and make things right,’ claims Dougherty.
‘I don’t know if Phil wants that. The way he went about it seemed to smack of saying the players should have more than they do right now.
‘That’s a hard pill to swallow for the public at home who have a regular life and regular jobs.
‘But it’s all relative to other athletes and sportspeople within that industry.
‘What I’ve got from talking to some of the players is that they would never have said it how he said it and they certainly wouldn’t have had the allegiances that Phil has shown.
The 51-year-old has slipped on the coveted green jacked three times (pictured in 2010)
‘But there was an element of what he’s doing is going to help us to have a little bit more stature within the game.
‘If he’s willing to come back to the centre and say ”I stand by some of this stuff. But I’m sorry by the way I went about this.”
‘If he seeks forgiveness, then I’d like to think that a man who’s achieved what he has and done a lot for our enjoyment of the game has an opportunity to make things right again.
‘There needs to be apologies and I prefer to think that would happen if you bring the Tour into disrepute.
‘I think there would be sanctions if I did something on the European Tour. That’s the world we live in. Because without it, it becomes unruly.’
It is unclear whether Mickelson’s omission from the first major of the year was his own choice or a suggestion from the chiefs at Augusta National.
But either way, Dougherty believes it in the best interest for both the player and the event that the 51-year-old is not teeing it up this year.
Dougherty believes it is in Augusta’s (pictured chairman Fred Ridley) best interest that Mickelson is not playing this year
‘I would certainly sympathise that Augusta, if nothing else, certainly do not want that conversation to be a part of it (The Masters),’ he says.
‘At their event, and certainly the one that stands for what the Masters stands for, they won’t want distractions. And if Phil is there, it’s going to be headlines.
‘I think for everyone involved, probably including Phil, to be honest, it’s for the best that he’s not there. Whether or not that’s his choice, I do not know.’
Rory McIlroy claimed the Super League idea was ‘dead in the water’ but the league is set to hold its inaugural event at the Centurion Club, St Albans, on June 9.
And Dougherty believes we haven’t seen the back of the proposed breakaway organisation.
‘Being totally transparent, I don’t think it’s the end of the conversation,’ he admits.
‘I think the PGA Tour have made great strides to combat it at the moment and protect its legacy.
‘A disruption of any kind sometimes makes for a better product. The PGA Tour have for a long time been the top of the tree and all of a sudden organisations came in and tried to shake it up a little bit.
‘It is probably going to end up making the PGA Tour better for its members.
‘But I still believe that it will probably go ahead. I still think they will find people to tee it up for that amount of money.
‘Those tournaments will happen. They can afford that. That’s one of the things we do know about this organisation, that they have the financial backing to see these events through.
‘I will be interested to see which players go, what level of player goes. It could be a great pay for some guys who would never get to see it up for this sort of money.’
Watch The Masters this April live on Sky Sports and NOW. Coverage from April 4-10 will be exclusively live on Sky Sports Golf.
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