2016 Masters Preview: Spieth, McIlroy and Day favourites at Augusta

Golf's first major of the year is almost upon us, with the world's best golfers preparing to make their annual visit to one of sport's most iconic venues.

2016 Masters Preview: Spieth, McIlroy and Day favourites at Augusta
Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are the leading contenders at Augusta. (Image: Jonny Walsh / VAVEL)

Golf's first major of the year is almost upon us, with the world's best golfers preparing to make their annual visit to one of sport's most iconic venues.

World number one Jason Day, defending champion Jordan Spieth and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy will head an 89 strong field aiming to sink the winning putt on Sunday and claim the prestigious green jacket.

Here's VAVEL UK's preview to the 2016 Masters which gets underway on Thursday, 7 April...

The world's top three go head-to-head

While Tiger Wood's absence at this year's Masters would have once signalled doom and gloom for the tournament, the rise of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have negated the blow. In the past 12 months, Spieth has made history of his own, McIlroy has continued to show he's poised to win many more majors in his already successful career and Day has risen to number one in the world to make a true golf 'big three'.

Spieth showed great maturity and composure to claim the green jacket last year at the age of 21 after setting a number of records. This year he looks set to go head-to-head with Day and McIlroy as few people are looking past the world's top three players to set the agenda at Augusta in what looks likely to be one of the most competitive editions in recent times.

Last year's US PGA champion Day has shown little rustiness from a three-month break at the end of 2015 after becoming a father for the second time. The Australian has won six of his last 13 events, including back-to-back victories coming into this week. He is only the third player since 1980 to win his last two events ahead of the Masters and he has finished T-2 and third at Augusta in his career. This could be the year he breaks through and claims his first green jacket.

Spieth, meanwhile, has failed to find his best form in recent weeks, missing a cut for only the eighth time since the start of the 2014 season, before narrowly avoiding another early exit two weeks later. Only three people have successfully defended their Master title and no one since Tiger Woods in 2002, but, despite his form, Spieth is a player that has been setting his own records ever since he made his PGA Tour debut at age 16.

Jordan Spieth is bidding to become the first man to win back-to-back Masters titles since Tiger Woods in 2002. | Photo: PGA
Jordan Spieth is bidding to become the first man to win back-to-back Masters titles since Tiger Woods in 2002. | Photo: PGA

Can McIlroy complete the prestigious career slam?

Rory McIlroy steps on to Augusta's first tee on Thursday aiming to become only the sixth man to claim the career slam (all four Majors), and the first from Europe, after Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen have all achieved the feat.

The current world number three even warmed up for the event with a hole-in-one on the course during a practise round earlier this week, and he will be looking to cast away the demons after his final round slip in 2011. He held a four-shot lead entering the final round, before shooting 80. 

Since then he has won four majors and he has only learnt from that experinece and improved as a result. On his past two visits to Augusta he has finished T-8 and fourth, but he will be hoping to go even better this year and write his name into the history books.

The British hopefuls

McIlroy might well offer the best hope of providing a first British winner since Sir Nick Faldo's victory in 1996, but he is just one of 16 British and Irish players aiming to emulate this feat.

Former US Open champion, Justin Rose, currently ranked eighth in the world, continues his search for a second major. The Englishman finished runner-up behind Spieth last year and looks primed to go well again having recorded four top-20 finishes in his last four strokeplay starts.

Danny Willett could be someone to watch having risen from outside the top 100 to 12th in the world in less than two years, while Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter will be all looking yo go well at Augusta this week.

Can Rory McIlroy complete the career slam? | Photo: Sky Sports
Can Rory McIlroy complete the career slam? | Photo: Sky Sports

Will America's dominance continue?

Europe's contingent have not won at Augusta since Jose Maria Olazabel in 1999 and Augusta has seen eight American winners in the past 12 years. As well as Spieth, there are several others with strong ambitions of becoming the third consecutive American champion.

Rickie Fowler will lead the American charge behind Spieth and having come close in majors before he will be looking to add a first major to his trophy cabinet. The world number five finished in the top-five in all four majors two years ago and he heads to Augusta having won in Dubai earlier this year and a top-10 finish last week when nobody hit more greens in regulation.

Dustin Johnson's recent form matches just about anyone in the Masters field, with top-five finishes in each of his last three strokeplay starts, while three-time winner Phil Mickelson is expected to mount another challenge.

Along with McIlroy and Day, Adam Scott could be the man to break American's dominance at Augusta, with the Australian 2016's form man. Scott currently leads the PGA Tour after claiming back-to-back titles last month in the Honda Classic and the WGC Championship and he will be hoping to carry his form into this week's Masters.