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Aggressive Rory McIlroy bids to tame healthy Tiger Woods at Masters

Tiger Woods says there is no clear-cut favourite, Rory McIlroy hopes to grab the Green Jacket with both hands and Justin Thomas plans to wait for his rivals to self-destruct.

The 87-man field is primed, the azaleas have bloomed and the weather forecast is fine except possibly for Saturday's third round for the U.S. Masters at Augusta National.

At 8:30 A.M. local time on Thursday (12:30 GMT) the first round will begin and the long build-up and endless speculation will be overtaken by something that actually matters -- a score.

Several blockbuster storylines are possible, not least the quest of Woods to defy long odds and collect a fifth Masters title after an astonishingly successful spinal fusion less than a year ago.

Others may disagree, but Woods said victory on Sunday would not constitute the greatest comeback in golf, an honour he bestowed on Ben Hogan, who recovered from a near-fatal car crash to win three consecutive majors in 1953.

But a Woods win would be nothing less than stunning, so soon after his career seemed on the scrap-heap as he endured searing pain in his back and legs, with a cure seemingly out-of-reach until he took the surgical equivalent of a Hail Mary.

Woods predicts a tightly-packed leaderboard as many of the game's top players peak at the right time.

A major obstacle blocking his route to a 15th major title is McIlroy, who is four great rounds from completing the career grand slam and joining Woods, Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player in that super-elite club.

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