Darren Clarke has predicted that Rory McIlroy will have to go head-to-head with a host of American stars if he is to win the Masters this year.
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The European Ryder Cup captain, who was quoted by The Sun, has backed the 25-year-old for success but has warned him that it will be tough to take victory and claim his fifth major championship.
The Masters is the one remaining major on McIlroy’s list of accomplishments he’s not yet achieved. He won the U.S Open in 2011, the Open Championship in 2014 and the PGA Championship in both 2012 and 2014.
McIlroy, the current World Number One, will be aiming to impress Clarke as well as his army of fans. Clarke, 46, came eighth at the Masters in 1998 and eventually won his first major – the Open – in 2011.
Clarke told reporters ahead of this year’s tournament: “Rory is clearly the guy to beat and while I’d love to see Lee Westwood, Justin Rose or Ian Poulter bounce back to form, his strongest challengers all seem to be Americans.
“You have to look at Jordan Spieth. He’s in a rich vein of form and his putter is hot. Jimmy Walker hits it a long way and has won twice this year. Dustin Johnson has been impressive and Bubba Watson must have a big chance.
“There are no signs of pressure affecting Rory. His game is so ideally suited to this place that he’s going to win at some stage. His all-round game is that good and will be especially effective around here.”