• Big field sparks Masters excitement


    AUGUSTA: Augusta National’s trademark back-nine drama in the final round of the Masters could reach epic heights on Sunday (Monday in Manila) with a field that offers no clear favorite and several rising young stars.

    Rory McIlroy and defending champion Adam Scott squandered late leads last month to lose, while reigning British Open champion Phil Mickelson and Australian star Jason Day are coming off injuries.

    World number one Tiger Woods will miss the Masters for the first time after back surgery to fix a pinched nerve.

    Mix in a record 24 first-time Masters starters, including recent three-time winners Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed, and one of golf’s grandest stages is set for a showdown to decide the green jacket like few seen in recent times.

    “To feel that energy and to hear the roars and be a part of what’s happening that final nine holes, it’s the greatest experience for a professional golfer,” said three-time Masters winner Mickelson.

    While the absence of 14-time major champion Woods could dim the mystique for some, it’s unlikely to steal the spotlight come Sunday afternoon.

    “Having Tiger in a tournament definitely creates more buzz, more of an atmosphere,” McIlroy said. “But no matter who is in contention or who is going to win, the Masters always provides a great finish.

    “There’s going to be a worthy winner and it’ll produce a lot of excitement whether Tiger is in the mix or not.”

    McIlroy led the first three rounds in 2011 before a last-nine collapse left him sharing 15th, still his best finish at the Masters.

    “I’d just like to get into contention again and have a chance to win the tournament,” McIlroy said. “Any time you drive through the gates here, it sort of lights the fire up inside you.”



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