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Scheffler grouped with McIlroy in early rounds

SCOTTIE Scheffler (left)and Rory McIlroy will be playing side by side in the first two rounds of the Masters Tournament starting Friday (Manila time) at Augusta National. | HARRY HOW/ AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AUGUSTA (AFP) — Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler and world No. 2 Rory McIlroy, each chasing a milestone Masters victory, will be playing partners in the first two rounds starting Friday (Manila time) at Augusta National.

Reigning Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, the world No. 5 seeking his first major title, will complete the feature trio from the field of 89, which includes 20 Masters newcomers.

Scheffler, fancied by oddsmakers, could join 15-time major winner Tiger Woods as the only players to win the Masters twice while ranked world No. 1.

The 27-year-old American has seven top-10 finishes in eight starts this year, including wins at The Players Championship and Arnold Palmer Championship.

But Scheffler’s trademark discipline and composure won’t let him ponder the impact of a second green jacket in three seasons.

“I try not to look too far into the future,” he said.

“I’m excited about how I’ve been playing to begin this year.”

“All I’m trying to do is put myself in contention in the tournament and hopefully finish it off. I really am not looking much past tomorrow. I’m focused on my preparation.”

McIlroy, a four-time major winner from Northern Ireland, knows all too well that a Masters triumph would complete a career grand slam. It’s the 10th time he has tried to finish the feat since winning his most recent majors in 2014.

“I’ve already got most of my prep work done, so it’s just about going out there and being relaxed and being in the right frame of mind,” McIlroy said.

“The more I can do that, the more I’ll be able to execute on the golf course.”

A 2022 Masters runner-up to Scheffler, McIlroy has six top-10 finishes in his past nine starts at Augusta.

Among those confident that McIlroy will complete the career grand slam is five-time Masters champion Woods.

“No question, he’ll do it at some point,” Woods said.

“Rory is too talented, too good. He’s going to be playing this event for a very long time. He’ll get it done. It’s just a matter of when.”

“I think Rory will be a great Masters champion one day and it could be this week. You never know. I just think that the talent he has, the way he plays the game and the golf course fits his eye, it’s just a matter of time.”

It was a motivational boost for McIlroy, whose decade-long major win drought includes 10 top-five finishes and three runner-up efforts, including last year’s US Open.

“It’s flattering. It’s nice to hear, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game say something like that,” McIlroy said.

“Does that mean it’s going to happen? Obviously not. But he has been around the game long enough to know I at least have the potential to do it. I know I’ve got the potential to do it, too. It’s not as if I haven’t been a pretty good player for the last couple decades.”

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