Tiger's absence leaves 78th Masters wide open

Wed Apr 9, 2014 4:55pm EDT
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - As the first of the year's four majors, the Masters has always been keenly anticipated and this week's edition should be one of the most open in decades with the absence of world number one Tiger Woods.

Former world number one Rory McIlroy has predicted that 70 players in the field of 97 are capable of clinching the coveted green jacket with multiple champion Woods out after having surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back.

Three-times champion Phil Mickelson feels that figure will depend on course conditions.

"The greens are getting back to what I call Masters speed," Mickelson told reporters at a sun-splashed Augusta National while preparing for Thursday's opening round.

"If that's the case, if the course plays firm and fast, I think you're looking at less than a dozen (players). But if it doesn't, I think you're looking at almost half the field."

Mickelson, a perennial contender at Augusta National, faced injury concerns of his own after withdrawing from last month's Texas Open with a pulled abdominal muscle, but he has fully recovered after doing extensive physiotherapy work.

"Physically, I feel great," said the 43-year-old American, who will be seeking a sixth major title. "This is my favorite week, and the course is in spectacular condition, as always.

"I just love everything about this tournament. This course has always been a course that I felt comfortable on and I've played some of my best golf here."   Continued...

Mar 9, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Tiger Woods walks to the 5th tee during the final round of the WGC - Cadillac Championship golf tournament at TPC Blue Monster at Trump National Doral. Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports