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Can McIlroy make history at the Masters? The 4 Irish players ready for a tilt at Augusta

A closer look at the chances of Ireland’s representatives this week.

Image: David J. Phillip

Updated at 12.00

NO IRISHMAN HAS managed to win at the Masters, but four players are hoping to change that this week at Augusta.

Among the 89-player field at the 80th edition of the prestigious tournament are Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Darren Clarke.

Each will tee-off on Thursday with vastly contrasting hopes for the four days ahead but that’s not to say the desire to pull on the green jacket doesn’t burn equally among them.

Here’s how Ireland’s four representatives at the 2016 Masters line-up.

Rory McIlroy

McIlroy is bidding to join golf’s most exclusive club this week as he begins his quest to add the Masters to his Major haul. Only five players in the game have ever won all four but the green jacket has so far proved elusive for the 26-year-old.

Not only does McIlroy have a weight of expectation on his shoulders but the weight of history and ghosts of times past. He infamously surrendered his four-shot lead on this track in 2011 and those demons have yet to be banished.

A fourth-placed finish last year is grounds for optimism and McIlroy has spoken of his desire to remain in touch with Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who have dominated the game for the last 12 months.

Golf - Grand Slam masters graphic Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

The world number three has been noticeably relaxed in the build-up and he believes a new attitude at Augusta will aid his bid for history.

“Someone once told me pressure’s for tyres,” McIlroy said on Tuesday. “The pressure I should feel is the pressure I put on myself and any outside influences, it shouldn’t really come into play.”

While McIlroy hasn’t won this year, his game is in good shape and Paul McGinley says he will ‘go under the radar’ this week with defending champion Spieth and world number one Day the bookmakers’ favourites.

Tom Watson has also backed McIlroy this week and believes his ability to to hit the ball high will be a real advantage around Augusta National. However, his putting – arguably his weakest suit – is something which many argue has denied him a win on this track in previous years.

That said, McGinley is of the opinion that McIlroy’s all-round game is so polished that he can bring any course to its knees.

“He’s blessed with some incredible talent in terms of hitting the golf ball, hitting it huge distances.

“He’s blessed with the ability to very much [play] front foot golf in terms of lots of birdies, lots of aggression, bringing a golf course to its knees. He’s got that ability to go into another gear that not a lot of guys have.”

First round tee-time: 7.01pm (Irish time)

Graeme McDowell

Masters Golf Source: Chris Carlson

Graeme McDowell insists he’s on the verge of something ‘big’ but on the evidence of the last couple of years, there’s nothing to suggest that he’ll deliver it this week.

The Portrush man’s career has stalled of late and he’s been forced to refocus and reassess the direction he’s going. He arrives at Augusta this week off the back of a good start to the season, during which his stats – particularly off the tee – are as good as anyone on tour.

The 36-year-old is always admirably realistic and is not afraid to admit he’s not getting his hopes up on a course which he’s struggled to negotiate in eight previous attempts.

His best finish at the Masters is tied for 12th in 2012 but the former US Open winner has been there and done it all before.

He says going into Thursday’s opening round with an ‘open mind’ and clear head will allow him to enjoy the week rather than worry about the surroundings and what’s going on around him.

McDowell hasn’t gone as far as to rule himself out of contention but he knows he’ll need to fire off the tee – an integral part of his game – and his putter to be red hot throughout four rounds to have any chance.

He may be on the brink of another big win but it would be a huge surprise if it came this week.

First round tee-time: 6.17pm (Irish time)

Shane Lowry

Cadillac Championship Golf Source: Lynne Sladky

The affable Shane Lowry is never short on confidence and he heads into his second Masters appearance infused with the belief that he can make his mark.

Lowry missed the cut by one shot last year but that experience will stand to him this time around as he no doubt will be more comfortable in the surroundings, not to mention having a slighter better knowledge of the course.

The world number 32 has had two extra days preparation after missing the cut at the Houston Open but he’s yet to really click into gear in 2016 after a memorable season last year.

Lowry, who plays with Angel Cabrera and JB Holmes in the penultimate group, demonstrated his propensity to rub shoulders, and beat, the best in the world by winning the WGC Bridgestone Invitational last August – but now he wants to announce himself on the Major stage.

There’s no doubt the Offaly man has the game to produce the goods but putting it all together when it matters most is another thing entirely. We saw that at Firestone but Lowry has struggled to replicate that form since.

That said, the days of qualifying for events of this magnitude is no longer deemed a success in itself. Lowry means business and he’s here to compete.

“He is a legitimate contender and a legitimate guy that we can row in behind and look forward to watching him compete,” McGinley said of Lowry.

First round tee-time: 6.50pm (Irish time)

Darren Clarke

Mideast Emirates Golf Source: AP/Press Association Images

The European Ryder Cup captain insists he won’t think about this week too much, one which will probably be his last at Augusta.

With his Masters exemption for winning the 2011 Open coming to an end this year, the next few days represent a swansong for Darren Clarke on the biggest stage.

He may have other things on his mind at the moment – most notably the forthcoming assignment at Hazeltine National – but Clarke is in Georgia this week to produce his best golf and enjoy what the Masters has to offer.

The 47-year-old doesn’t have the best records around these parts with just one top ten finish in 13 appearances. He says his ‘awareness of where not to go’ has held him back in Augusta down the years so maybe 2016 gives him a chance to play with freedom.

In the build-up, Clarke conceded he wouldn’t shed a tear when his final round concludes but he’ll want that to be Sunday and not Friday.

First round tee-time: 4.38pm (Irish time)

There’s been no European winner at the Masters since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 – it would be nice if that duck was broken this week and an Irishman made history whilst doing it.

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4 groups to follow for the opening rounds at Augusta

‘Shane is a legitimate contender and Ireland can look forward to watching him compete’

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Ryan Bailey

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