Galileo Gold and Frankie Dettori win the 2000 Guineas

Galileo gold.jpg

Galileo gold.jpg

Galileo Gold ran out an emphatic winner of the Qipco 2000 Guineas for Frankie Dettori and Hugo Palmer at Newmarket.

Prominent throughout, the Al Shaqab-owned colt streaked clear going into the dip and beat Massaat by a length and a half at odds of 14-1.

Ribchester defied his price of 33-1 to finish third, beaten two lengths.

Hot favourite Air Force Blue was in trouble early and finished in the rear.

It was a third win in the Classic for Dettori, a mere 20 years on from his first success on Mark Of Esteem.

The rider crossed over from the centre of the track to bag the rail once clear and he never looked like being caught.

Massaat, second to Air Force Blue in the Dewhurst, ran a blinder for first-season trainer Owen Burrows with Ribchester flying the flag for Richard Fahey and the north in third.

The race was supposed to revolve around last year's champion juvenile Air Force Blue, but Ryan Moore never looked particularly happy while another major disappointment was Racing Post Trophy winner Marcel.

Annie Power to miss Punchestown Festival

Annie Power

Annie Power

Vroum Vroum Mag is one of six declarations for Friday’s Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle, with fellow Willie Mullins inmate Annie Power a noticeable absentee.

Annie Power claimed the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham as well as the Aintree Hurdle at the Grand National meeting and had been due to try to bring up the hat-trick on the fourth day of the Punchestown Festival.

However, Vroum Vroum Mag, who was taken out of a race at Sandown at the 12th hour last Saturday, will now represent Mullins and owner Rich Ricci.

One man who will be glad of Annie Power's absence is Nicky Henderson, as his My Tent Or Yours chased her home at Cheltenham after a two-year absence and also filled therunner-up spot behind her at Aintree.

Henry de Bromhead will be looking for a better display from Identity Thief after the Fighting Fifth winner disappointed at Cheltenham.

Mullins also runs Sempre Medici while Tony Martin's Ted Veale and Willie Treacy's Fethard Player complete the field.

And, after an opening day when several of his stable stars ran flat, Willie Mullins is hoping the same fate does not await Douvan in Thursday's Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown.

Of all his superstars, Douvan, unbeaten over hurdles and fences since joining Mullins from France, is the shortest price of them all.

He has looked simply imperious over the bigger obstacles, with his only real mistake coming at the final fence on his chasing debut.

Douvan had Sizing John seven lengths back in second in the Arkle at Cheltenham and he was even more impressive at Aintree, beating The Game Changer by 14 lengths, and those two take him on again.

"Douvan has been doing everything well since Aintree and I'm happy with him. He'll come here and take his chance," said Mullins.

"Coming here this week, we were thinking it could be hard after running at Cheltenham and Liverpool. We could have a few more hiccups before the end of the week.

"I'm happy with them all, but it's just the year that it is that we are doing a few different things (chasing British title), and there is every chance that a few more could run flat like some have. But we have to put up with that."

Gordon Elliott's The Game Changer has also been to both Cheltenham and Aintree, but he has the advantage of having had a mid-season break.

The seven-year-old enjoyed a fruitful summer and autumn, winning three Grade Threes before being roughed off in October to be brought back for Cheltenham.

Elliott, who suffered a huge blow with the news of Don Cossack's injury at the weekend, feels his charge could give the favourite something to think about.

"The Game Changer will love the drying-out ground and I don't think he'll be far away from Douvan in the novice chase on Thursday," he told his Boylesports blog.

Jessica Harrington's Ttebbob looked like being a major player in the division earlier in the season, but the wheels fell off when Douvan put him in his place at Christmas.
He does at least have the advantage of being fresh.

Harrington told At The Races: "He looked like being very good early on and I'm not sure what happened at Leopardstown at Christmas.

"He'll be fresher than some, but he's coming up against Douvan."

Henry de Bromhead's Sizing John takes on Douvan for a sixth time and he will be partnered by Barry Geraghty this time in place of the injured Johnny Burke.

The sole British raider is Neil Mulholland's Baltimore Rock, who was a faller in the Arkle, while Vincent Halley's Mr Picotee completes the field.

Danny Willett’s brother’s live tweeting of Masters win was sensational

Danny Willett

Danny Willett

Golfer Danny Willett may have become the first Briton to win the US Masters in two decades but it was his brother who proved the unlikely star of the show.

Peter Willett, from Birmingham, lived every minute from the sidelines as his 28-year-old brother swung into the history books at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

Live tweeting from the account @P_J_Willett, his running commentary began to trend on Twitter in the UK.

Posting a picture as his brother moved to four under par and to the top of the leaderboard, he tweeted: "Unbelievable, Jeff. I'm not keeping it together. COOOOOMEEEEE ONNNNNN X."

While Danny, from Sheffield, continued to hold his nerve, Peter became aware of what a win would mean for him.

"If the boy does what he should, I will be able to say 'I've shared a bath with a Masters winners – brilliant," he said.

And while young golfers the world over dream of donning the prestigious winners' Green Jacket, the teacher warned Danny: "Green makes you look fat, refuse the jacket."

Posting a picture of Taittinger champagne and referring to defending champion Jordan Spieth, he said: "Just downed in one. Work will understand. Behave yourself, Spieth."

He was unable to contain his excitement as the tournament neared its end around midnight on Sunday, tweeting: "2 birdies from slowpoke and I'll eat my pants.

"There's a fat woman legging it around my house singing. I'm cracking open the passion fruit liqueur. AHHHHHHHHHHH.

"Speechless. I once punched that kid in the head for hurting my pet rat. Now look."

Returning to reality, Peter appeared to be looking forward to basking in his new-found limelight with the children at his school.

"When I'm too tired to teach a good lesson tomorrow, and some kid spits at me, I'm just gonna smile and say 'I won Twitter' *drops mic," he said.

Another member of the Willett family, Sarah Willett, was also living the drama on Twitter.

Beforehand, she said: "No pressure this weekend @Danny_Willett but we have put our house and life savings on a good finish from you."

And as Danny took the lead she said: "Don't ever put us through this again Dan, I've aged 20 years #IWantTheFatLadyToSing."

Comedian Dara O Briain was among those who enjoyed Peter's tweets, saying: "New Masters champion @DannyWillet's brother @P_J_Willett has been tweeting up a storm tonight. Worth reading his timeline."

Regarding the row over the rat, the brothers' father Steve told the BBC: "Well Peter, of all of them, Peter is the one who thinks he's got a sense of humour. I apologise … for the language he used.

"Peter and Danny shared a bedroom. Peter insisted on keeping two pet rats, Danny did not like that very much so did everything in his power to make sure the rats vacated the premises.

"They used to get into fights all the time about the rats."

Top tips and horse-by-horse guide for Aintree Grand National

Niall Cronin gives his horse-by-horse guide of today’s Grand National (5.15 )at Aintree and we share the the best tips from all the nation’s top experts.

Many Clouds 8/1

(Oliver Sherwood)

Rating 10 (out of 10)

The one to beat. Last year’s winner has unsurprisingly had nothing else on his agenda only to get back to try and retain this crown. Running off a 5lb higher mark but only carrying 1lb more in his saddle. Rock solid.


Silviniaco Conti 10/1

(Paul Nicholls) 5

A seven-time Grade One winner, the most recent of which in February when it looked like he had lost his way. Stamina was found wanting in two Gold Cups.


First Lieutenant 10/1

(Mouse Morris) 8

Despite being 11, showed he was is still up to mixing it in top company when third in the Hennessy and being beaten narrowly in the Lexus Chase. Should not to be ignored.


Wonderful Charm 50/1

(Paul Nicholls) 5

Trained with this race in mind all season, but stamina might be the main problem, having never won over anything further than 2m 5f.


Ballynagour 50/1

(David Pipe) 4

This season began well, when third in the Charlie Hall, but his form tailed off. A bit more promise at Cheltenham but looks too hit and miss to be trusted.


O’Faolains Boy 25/1

(Rebecca Curtis) 6

Shown flashes of quality this term and ran well for a long way in the Gold Cup. Trainer has always felt he’d be perfect type for this but needs a return to his 2014 RSA form.


Gilgamboa 40/1

(Enda Bolger) 8

Went close off a big weight at Leopardstown at Christmas but was disappointing in the Irish Gold Cup. Ran well over an inadequate trip at Cheltenham; jumping not a worry. Class horse on his day with a chance.


On His Own 40/1

(Willie Mullins) 5

A faller when well fancied in 2012 and 2013, he is now 12 but showed in Lexus he is still capable of running to high level. Might not get his own way in front and that would be a concern.


The Druids Nephew 16/1

(Neil Mulholland) 8

Fell at fourth last when still holding every chance as 10/1 shot last year and has had this season campaigned around getting back to this race. Form could be better but horses can come alive at Aintree. He’ll need to.


Triolo D’Alene 25/1

(Nicky Henderson) 6

Won a Hennessy Gold Cup as a six-year-old yet is still only nine. Pulled up in this last year but and despite good win in January is hard to fancy.


Rocky Creek 50/1

(Paul Nicholls) 3

Second best to Don Cossack on seasonal debut. Fancied for this race last year (11/2) when hampered by faller. Couldn’t win as eight-year-old behind Pineau De Re. Will struggle.


Sir Des Champs 25/1

(Willie Mullins) 5

Won at two successive Cheltenham Festivals and was one of the leading staying chasers around. Not been the same horse since injury struck.


Holywell 12/1

(Jonjo O’Neill) 6

A horse that only seems to be able to produce his very best form in the spring and that was shown again at Cheltenham when second last month. Would have been primed to the minute for that. Still found one too good though.


Shutthefrontdoor 16/1

(Jonjo O’Neill) 6

Travelled like the winner for much of the race before fading on the run-in. However, connections felt he may have suffered an injury and do not feel it was a stamina issue. If that’s the case, he’s not to be overlooked but pulled up on his last run.


Soll 50/1

(David Pipe) 4

Seventh three years ago and ninth last year suggests he may struggle off an even higher handicap mark.


Buywise 50/1

(Evan Williams) 6

Is two years looking for another win over fences and has hardly been setting the world alight this season. Jockey has a good record around here without winning it.


Boston Bob 25/1

(Willie Mullins) 7

Had to work hard to beat stable companion On His Own last time but on better ground he should improve. At his best, he would look well handicapped but he’s now 11. Trainer/jockey always to be feared.


Aachen 66/1

(Venetia Williams) 5

A 12-year-old which is running off a career-high mark. Trainer won the race with 100/1 shot before but surely can’t do it again.


Morning Assembly 25/1 (Pat Fahy) 9

Ran a nice trial for this when fourth at Cheltenham. Few of the runners could match his form as a novice and he has been nicely handled to get to this point this season even without winning. Potentially could be the best of the Irish raiders as we look to end the drought for this race.


Double Ross 66/1

(Nigel Twiston-Davies) 3

Has run well over these National fences twice before but has another two miles to contend with today and he doesn’t stay that sort of distance.


Goonyella 20/1

(Jim Dreaper) 7

Stamina will certainly not be a concern and the more rain the better. Ran a fine trial behind stable companion in the Leinster National. If he warms to his jumping early he could be knocking on the door but may have to succumb to others.


Ucello Conti 33/1

(Gordon Elliott) 7

Has only had three runs for Gordon Elliott, the last of which saw him brought as wide as possible when third in the Thyestes Chase. Is certainly worth an investment as he remains unexposed.


Unioniste 20/1

(Paul Nicholls) 4

Second to Many Clouds at Kelso and it would be a surprise of he got within 10 lengths of him this time. Trainer stated horse did not enjoy race last year when he fell.


Le Reve 40/1

(Lucy Wadham) 7

Plenty of stamina and a sound jumper. He doesn’t leap off the page with his form but wouldn’t be a surprise if he ran well at big price


Gallant Oscar 20/1

(Tony Martin) 7

Ran well the last time he didn’t have to encounter very testing ground and that was at Cheltenham last year behind The Druids Nephew but hit hard by the handicapper and has struggled since then. Trainer in form.


Onenightinvienna 33/1

(Philip Hobbs) 6

Faces a tough test in this race as a novice, but wasn’t beaten far by subsequent RSA Chase winner Blaklion. May be well handicapped but on the other hand may be just too inexperienced.


The Last Samuri 10/1

(Kim Bailey) 9

May possibly go off favourite such has been the support for him in the last week or so. Won readily last time out and has seem to improve with every run this season. Ticks a lot of boxes.


Kruzhlinin 25/1

(Philip Hobbs) 7

This has been his target all season and he has experience over the fences which is a plus but some of his jumping at Cheltenham last time was head scratching.


Rule The World

(Mouse Morris) 7

A consistent chaser but still a maiden over fences. May have won a Galway Plate but for slipping up late on. Trainer seems quietly confident of a big run and might get it.


Just A Par

(Paul Nicholls) 5

Won the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last season but subsequent efforts hardly inspire a great deal of confidence.


Katenko

(Venetia Williams) 3

Not won since January 2013 and has struggled badly since his return from injury. Tough to see him playing a hand in the finish.


Vics Canvas

(Dermot McLoughlin) 4

Relatively lightly raced for a 13-year-old and stayed on gamely in the Becher Chase in December. Better ground will be a help to him.


Black Thunder

(Paul Nicholls) 2

Bits of form that make you have a second look. Beat Many Clouds once upon a time. Hard to fancy on recent evidence.


Ballycasey 66/1

(Willie Mullins) 6

Brought down early last year and was an eyecatcher at Cheltenham last month. Not most reliable but can’t be ruled out.


Hadrian’s Approach

(Nicky Henderson) 4

Useful on good ground, but even that might not be enough for a horse which has flattered to deceive since win at Sandown in April 2014.


Vieux Lion Rouge 40/1

(David Pipe) 3

A grand horse with some nice form earlier in the season but never reached the dizzy heights of a live contender for a race like this.


Pendra 50/1

(Charlie Longsdon) 5

Has failed to deliver at Cheltenham and in Irish National. Could outrun odds but would be surprise winner.


Saint Are 16/1

(Tom George) 6

Fine runner-up last year and sneaks in off a 1lb lower mark than 12 months ago. Won a veterans’ chase last time out and even had a run over the cross country fences. On some shortlists but not for me.


Home Farm 100/1

(Henry de Bromhead) 3

Has never quite managed to achieve what has so often been expected of him. Was third in Irish National three years ago but even that form wouldn’t be good enough here.


The Romford Pele 40/1

(Rebecca Curtis) 6

Trainer’s horses are hitting a bit of form and this horse certainly wasn’t disgraced in very different assignment at Cheltenham. There’ll be worse 50/1 shots running for you.


Experts Tips via Irish Independent

Richard Forristal: Holywell 12/1

Wayne Bailey:  The Last Samurai 10/1

Patrick Mullins: Ballycasey 10/1

Niall Cronin: Many Clouds 8/1

Irish Daily Mirror

Newsboy: Morning Assembly 25/1

Irish Daily Star

Brian Flanagan: Silviniaco Conti 10/1

The Irish Sun

Paddy Power: Shutthefrontdoor 16/1

The Irish Daily Mail

Marcus Townsend: The Druids Nephew 16/1

Shane Lowry in contention after opening day at The Masters

Lowry flying the Irish flag at Augusta

Lowry flying the Irish flag at Augusta

Defending champion Jordan Spieth assumed his customary position on top of the leaderboard with a brilliant 66 as Shane Lowry led a powerful European challenge for a first Masters title since 1999.

Spieth (below), who was second on his debut in 2014 and claimed a first green jacket with a record-breaking performance 12 months ago, carded six birdies and no bogeys despite swirling winds on the opening day at Augusta National.

That gave the 22-year-old a two-shot lead over Lowry and New Zealand's Danny Lee, with Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Soren Kjeldsen all a shot behind on three under.

Rory McIlroy (below), who is seeking a first Masters title to complete the career grand slam, was a shot further back alongside Danny Willett, with McIlroy dropping shots on the 16th and 18th and Willett making his only bogey of the day on the last.

World number one Jason Day was a shot off the lead when he raced to the turn in 31 with an eagle and three birdies, but dropped five shots in his last four holes – including a triple bogey on the 16th – to finish level par.

Spieth, who is looking to become just the fourth player after Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods to successfully defend the year's first major championship, led from start to finish after an opening 64 last year and was quickly into his stride with birdies on the third, sixth and eighth.

The world number two, who set records for the highest number of birdies (28) and lowest 36 and 54-hole totals in Masters history last year, also birdied the 10th, 13th and 18th, but was equally pleased to scramble pars on the 11th, 12th and 16th.

"I would have signed for two under today and not even played the round, knowing the conditions that were coming up," said Spieth, who is a record 29 under par for his nine competitive rounds in the Masters. His position after each of those rounds reads 12-3-1-2-1-1-1-1-1.

"I got a lot out of the round with what I felt like was kind of average-ish ball-striking. I got the most I could probably get out of my round today. I think the round today may have been better than the first round last year because of the conditions, I definitely could make that argument."

Lowry declared himself delighted with his opening round of 68 at The Masters, even though he missed chances to shoot an even lower round in at Augusta.

Lowry finished two shots off early leader Jordan Spieth, with the Offlay man looking forward to making a push for his first major title after his flying start.

pic.twitter.com/SasTmSbZIr

— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 7, 2016

“If you had have given me this at the start of the day, I would have bitten your hand off,” stated Lowry. “I played really well today and I am pretty happy to be sitting where I am right now.

“I was just trying to keep it going as long as I could after my fast start. I made a 12-footer on the first to hold par and then holed a couple of 15-20 footer, so I was off and running.

“It was difficult today. It windy and any birdie you could get was hard work. Par was a good score, but I was lucky to make a couple of good putts coming in.

“I woke up this morning and I felt great. I was excited, I wasn’t nervous. I just couldn’t wait to get started. Hopefully I wake up in the same frame of mind on Friday.”

Here is the full first round leaderboard:

The first-round #Masters leaderboard. For complete scores check out: https://t.co/FLBO8TxJC9 pic.twitter.com/NT6mpi9iyY

— Augusta.com (@AUG_Masters) April 7, 2016

Shocking image from Aintree shows that horse could have broken neck

Annie Power, ridden by Ruby Walsh, wins the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle

Annie Power, ridden by Ruby Walsh, wins the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle

Thankfully, The New One recovered quicky in the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle, won by the Ruby Walsh-ridden Annie Power.

Annie Power reigned supreme as she followed up her Cheltenham exploits with a brilliant performance in the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle at the Liverpool track.

The New One fell at the fifth flight, with the image below showing that the horse could have been in serious trouble. Thankfully, both horse and rider Sam Twiston-Davies got up quickly.

The New One suffered a horrific-looking fall at Aintree but recovered quickly

Emulating the mighty mare Dawn Run, who won both this race and the Champion Hurdle in the same season back in 1984, Annie Power was simply the best.

She was barely out of second gear for most of the race as Nichols Canyon set the pace.

Ruby Walsh sat motionless on the brilliant eight-year-old, trained by Willie Mullins, before she went on a long way from home.

Cheltenham second My Tent Or Yours tried to mount a challenge but was brushed aside before lack of stamina kicked in.

The 4-11 favourite went on to win as she liked by 18 lengths from My Tent Or Yours. Nichols Canyon, also trained by Mullins, was third as owner Rich Ricci chalked up his first winner at the course.

Walsh said: "She is dynamite. Paul (Townend) went a good gallop on Nichols Canyon and I was happy to follow him early on. He was jumping out to his right and I jumped by him at the last with a circuit to go.

"She let fly at one or two and she just has that in her and the tendency to be a bit brave. Between the last two I was afraid to look back, then I heard the commentator saying Annie Power is going clear.

"She is wonderful mare, she was fantastic at Cheltenham and she was as good today if not better."

Ricci said: "I think it is just her story. The fact her name has got great history to it. She was named after an Irish patriot. She was part of the revolution and establishment of the country. It's a nice story.

"I think the fact she fell at Cheltenham and came back for some redemption, that's what sport is brilliant in offering and it's my first winner here as well.

"We probably should have brought her to this race a couple of years ago instead of running in the World Hurdle, but I was keen on Cheltenham.

"Sport offers lots of things and redemption is one of the best. It's good for the game."

Mullins said: "That was only her third run of the season, so I thought she might have improved since Cheltenham, or at the very least she wouldn't have gone backwards.

"She came back well from Cheltenham and we've been very happy with the few bits of work she's done since then.

"We'll certainly have a look at Punchestown for her now, that's certainly all that would be left for her in Britain or Ireland."

Nicky Henderson said of My Tent Or Yours: "You could say on a line through Nichols Canyon we've stepped up from Cheltenham.

"He's run two very lucrative seconds since he's come back and think where we would be without Annie Power. I'd really be patting myself on the back!

"I wouldn't have thought he'll go to Punchestown. I think it was either here or there.

"I don't know what we'll do next season. We'll talk about that somewhere down the line."

Five horses to back in this year’s Aintree Grand National

Aintree looking glorious ahead of the big meeting

Aintree looking glorious ahead of the big meeting

Here are five horses that I believe will do very well in the Aintree Grand National on Saturday. But before you wade in, remember that the very first Grand National in 1839 was won by a horse called Lottery – and nothing much has changed since!

Gallant Oscar 20/1
 
This horse won a valuable handicap chase at Punchestown at the end of last season and has been campaigned over hurdles since to protect his handicap mark. He has just 10st 8lb on his back and trainer Tony Martin is adept at getting a horse right for a target.

Don’t be worried about the fact that Barry Geraghty is not riding this JP McManus-owned horse, Gallant Oscar, given luck in running, has a big chance.
 
Morning Assembly 25/1
 
A high class novice steeplechaser two years ago, he finished third in the Grade One RSA Chase at Cheltenham, but missed all of last season through injury.

He has been brought back gently, again with this race in mind, and was an eye-catching fourth in a three-mile Cheltenham handicap last month that will have left him spot on for Saturday’s challenge. Having Davy Russell in the saddle will do Morning Assembly’s chances no harm at all either.
 
Sir des Champs 25/1 

This class horse is a double winner at the Cheltenham Festival, and was also second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup of 2013. But he has been hampered by injury since and thus gets into the race with a featherweight, for a steed of his quality, of just 10st 13lbs.

Very interestingly, Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride this horse from a number of options in the Willie Mullins stable. That’s a serious tip in itself.
 
The Druids Nephew 16/1
 
Five fences from home in last year’s race, The Druids Nephew was lobbing along in the lead before capsizing on landing after jumping a fence that rarely catches horses out.

Now it was a long way from the finish, but Neil Mulholland’s horse was going as easily, or even easier, as those who did contest the outcome. He’s back for another go, but is four pounds worse off with the favourite Many Clouds. So did he miss his big chance in 2015?

Saint Are 16/1

Many Clouds is all the rage for this year’s race as he bids to emulate Red Rum by winning back-to-back Nationals. But Saint Are was only a length and a half behind the winner 12 months ago, and he’ll be two pounds better off at the weights this time around.

Saint Are also made a bad mistake at Becher’s on the second circuit last year. With a clean round of jumping on Saturday, he has to have a big chance.

Video: All NINE hole-in-ones from the Par 3 contest at Augusta

Gary Player celebrates his hole-in-one at the seventh

Gary Player celebrates his hole-in-one at the seventh

Here are all NINE hole-in-ones from last night’s record breaking Par 3 contest ahead of the 2016 Masters.

Watch the record-setting collection: all nine holes-in-one from today's Par 3 Contest. #themastershttps://t.co/PcFbOXHKr7

— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 6, 2016

The most incredible of all was the one by 80-year-old Gary Player, who aced the seventh.

The tournament was won by Jimmy Walker, who carded a record score of eight under, a round which also included a hole-in-one.

Roy Curtis: Rory’s short game way off the mark for Masters success

McIlroy at the World Matchplay: 'The short stick was again the sword upon which he fell as his hopes perished in a fog of frustration'

McIlroy at the World Matchplay: ‘The short stick was again the sword upon which he fell as his hopes perished in a fog of frustration’

IF there are dissenting voices around his fondness for heavy gym work, it is a different kind of crushing weight that requires urgent lifting from Rory McIlroy’s shoulders.

It is the one measuring the mental burden piling mightily upon the Irishman’s muscled torso on Masters eve, an anxiety that must feel as pulverising as an entire copse of Augusta pines crashing down atop his bulked-up 5’7” frame.

The source is not the hand of history pressing heavily as he seeks to join the quintet of immortals who count the crown jewel of a career Grand Slam among their treasures. 

Nor is it the nagging fear – expressed most vocally by Nick Faldo – that McIlroy’s self-declared obsession with lifting 300lb weights might harm a golf swing gifted by the gods.

Neither does it come from fifth anniversary memories of his infamous, mortifying Amen Corner meltdown even as the engraver was preparing to etch his name into Masters lore.

Or even – by his exalted standards – from a prosaic Augusta record, one which last year’s final-round charge from oblivion to fourth with a closing 66 can’t remotely paper over.

It is not the weight of extraordinary deeds whispering down the years or the hunger to add his own chapter to epic tales penned at this enchanted corner of the golfing universe.

Rather, the World Number Three is wobbling under the stresses and strain of a growing terror.

It is the one that says that the voices – both inside his head and behind the social media loudhailer – screaming that his flaky putting is more likely to be rewarded with a red face than a Green Jacket might not be silenced this week. 

McIlroy will venture down the botanic wonderland of Magnolia Lane without a win on American soil for 11 months, an eternity for a player of his standing.

So far this season, he has been a shadow of the old titan of the fairways.

On the greens he too frequently displays a lack of conviction more appropriate to a Sunday morning hacker.

If McIlroy’s driving and iron-play remain a work of art, his putting is vandalising the masterpiece of his long game, a scribbled moustache on the lip of the Mona Lisa. 

While his great rivals have transformed the spring months into their personal feasting hall, McIlroy has had to settle for the crumbs of one Top Ten finish from six stroke play starts.

If, in recent weeks, the cup has looked as broad as a lunar crater to Jason Day and Adam Scott, its 4.25 inch dimension has resembled the eye of a needle to McIlroy.

Even in advancing to the semi-final in his WGC Match Play defence last weekend, the same flashing hazard lights were still blinking furiously.

The short stick was again the sword upon which he fell as his hopes perished in a fog of frustration.

Three times in a titanic tussle with Day, McIlroy missed hole-winning opportunities from within eight feet.

For golfers operating at near genius level, that is the equivalent of squandering a trio of penalty kicks. 

Day, meanwhile, illustrated the old putt-for-dough truism by taking just 23 short-stick jabs over the 18 holes.

When that showdown with the new World Number One is lost on the very last hole, the brilliance of McIlroy’s general play undone by his putting, the torment only grows.

The Ulsterman retreated afterward behind a mountain of positive-thinking soundbites, but a recent radical grip-change has done little to ease his suffering on the greens.

The stark truth is that the 26-year-old – always a streaky putter, prone to debilitating periods – is conceding several strokes a week to his rivals.

In the 10-15 feet distance, McIlroy ranks 129th on the PGA Tour in putts converted; from the even more critical distance of 5-10 feet, he lags in a lowly, startling 155th.

At the elite level, where the margins are tiny, it is like arriving at the O.K Corral with an empty holster. 

All the more so when his rivals appear laden down with an endless arsenal of silver bullets.

Day – exhibiting the certainty of the most recent major winner – has won on each of the past two weeks, the Australian resembling Achilles, except with armour-plated heels.

Scott, his resurgent countryman, went back-to-back before that, a timely reminder of his 2013 Green Jacket heroics.

Bubba Watson, a course-and-distance specialist at Augusta, tuned up with a commanding performance at Riviera.

Rickie Fowler, the Johnny Depp lookalike chasing his first major, was an impressive champion in the Middle East.

And if Jordan Spieth has cooled off from his 2015 season for the ages – one which brought two major titles before his 22nd birthday – he can still point to a 2016 win in Hawaii. 

Before last weekend, McIlroy’s form-line – 26th, 11th, 20th, Missed Cut, 3rd, 27th – was that of some anonymous mid-ranking pro rather than the game’ sstellar talent.

During his 11-month American famine, the superstars he is more used to keeping company with, Day, Fowler and Spieth have won 14 times worldwide.

Heading to the marble staircases of Augusta National infected by even a thimble of putting doubts is as dangerous as ascending Everest while overwhelmed by vertigo. 

Yet that is the immense burden, the weight-on-the-shoulder McIlroy – 13/2 second favourite, more on reputation than form – is being asked to carry.

It all suggests that should he be successful in lifting the few ounces the Green Jacket weighs around his shoulders next Sunday, it will be the standout bench-press of his young life.

Golf legend Tom Watson backing Rory McIlroy for Masters glory

McIlroy tees off at the seventh at Augusta during a practice round for the Masters

McIlroy tees off at the seventh at Augusta during a practice round for the Masters

Tom Watson has backed Rory McIlroy to complete the career grand slam which eluded him as the 66-year-old prepared to make his final appearance in the Masters.

Watson won a total of nine major championships during his illustrious career, including the Masters twice and five Open titles, but never won the US PGA Championship in 33 attempts.

McIlroy's first attempt to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four major titles ended in disappointment with a fourth-place finish at Augusta National last year.

But former Ryder Cup captain Watson believes the Northern Irishman is capable of "emasculating" any golf course and has the ideal game to succeed in the predicted tougher conditions this week.

"He's the guy. He's my pick this week," Watson said. "He's just got a tremendous talent. He hits the ball high. I think it's always been an advantage to hit the ball high on this golf course.

"And I can tell you the golf course is different this year than it was last year. The greens are faster yesterday and today than they were last year. They sped them up. They seem just a little bit harder.

"Today (Tuesday) they had a real sheen to them. Number five was like a mirror. They are out there syringing the greens, so I think you're seeing a little bit different set-up this year. I think it's going to be a tougher set-up. And the people that hit the ball high, they have an advantage.

"Rory, he can emasculate a golf course, he flat (out) can. He hits the ball high and so far."

Not being able to hit the ball too far these days is the reason Watson has decided to call time on his competitive career at the Masters, although he will continue to play in the par-three contest and on the Champions Tour.

"I made the decision last year to announce at the Open Championship that this was going to be my last Masters," added Watson, who has not made the cut at Augusta since 2010.

"In my toolbox I have one of those tape measures and that tape measure used to extend out to 265 yards carry off the tee. And now it doesn't do that any more. It's 250 yards off the tee.

"When you see these kids play out here and see them carry the ball 280 and 290 yards off the tee, it's time to say I can't compete with them. And I haven't been able to really honestly compete with them for several years."

Asked what his legacy in golf would be, Watson added: "You have to ask other people that. I just hope that when all is said and done that my peers say that Watson was a hell of a golfer.

"I just want to be remembered by my peers, the guys that know what it takes to be a championship golfer. I hope that also going throughout my career, that I've treated people the way they should be treated. Sometimes I haven't. But most of the time I have, I think, and I think that's important."