Woods and Mickelson will shine at Masters next month, McIlroy predicts

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Rory McIlroy is still trying to get comfortable with Augusta National, he says, and he expects to see Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods again contending for the Green Jacket next month.
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PA Sport

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Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have now played 39 events between them without a single win, but Rory McIlroy still expects them both to be right in the thick of the action at the Masters next month.

All three are playing in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral starting on Thursday, but the first major of the season is now only four weeks away.

"I think the same guys always play well there," said McIlroy. "Phil seems to find a way to play Augusta -- he's done great there the last few years."

Mickelson beat Lee Westwood for his third Green Jacket in seven years last April and has only once finished outside the top 10 in that spell.

"Even Tiger comes back after having nine or 10 months off, whatever it was, from the game (actually only four) and finishes fourth," added McIlroy.

"I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of the guys that have only played there a couple of times -- it takes a while to learn the golf course and it takes a while to feel 100% comfortable on it,” he explained. "Of course the Masters is always going to be a tournament that everyone in the field feels that they can win, but I think you'll still see the usual suspects up there on Sunday."

McIlroy last week described Woods, a four-time winner at Augusta, as having become an "ordinary golfer" on an American website, but now feels he did not quite get his point across in the way he intended.

"I was watching an interview with Sean Foley (Woods' coach) and sort of thought 'that's what I was trying to say, but it didn't really come out that way,'” he said. "He said Tiger has spoiled us for 10 or 15 years with the golf that he's played and he doesn't know if we're ever going to see that again.

"No one knows and that's basically what I'm trying to say. Tiger was so good back then -- people forget how good he was -- and we expect him to perform like that all the time,” he said. "It's probably just not humanly possible."

The 21-year-old Northern Irishman, who after the promise of a 20th place finish on his debut at Augusta two years ago missed the cut last time, is not as worried about his own form as closing rounds of 77 and 75 in the Honda Classic at the weekend might suggest.

"I actually feel as if my game is in pretty good shape," he said. "The last couple of weeks haven't been exactly what I've wanted (he was a second-round loser at the WGC-Accenture Match Play two weeks ago) but I feel like 75-80 percent of my game is really good. It's just the other 20 I need to work on. I'm feeling pretty positive -- I think I'm still working on the right things and just trying to make sure that my game is in the best possible shape for the April 7 when the Masters starts.

"I've been driving the ball great all year -- I've got longer and I feel as if I'm hitting enough fairways,” he added. "Sometimes I don't take advantage of that, maybe by playing the wrong shot at the wrong time or being a little bit too aggressive or whatever. It's just a matter of making the right decisions on the golf course."

McIlroy, keen to add to his two professional victories, believes he can learn a lot from the way his compatriot and Ryder Cup partner Graeme McDowell goes about things.

"I think his strategy is always very good, his course management, his decision-making, basically his whole thought process before golf shots, weighing up the different options,” he said. "Sometimes I'm a little bit too instinctive and just go for the first shot that comes into my head or the first shot that I sort of see.

"With everything you have to trust yourself and rely on your own instincts, but there are times when a little bit of advice here and there doesn't hurt,” he added. "I played a practice round with him last week and was having conversations about course management. I feel like if I could take a little bit of his game and sort of embed it into my game a little bit it would help."

McIlroy has also spoken to Mickelson with the Masters in mind.

"He likes it so much because he says he can be so imperfect,” McIlroy said. “He has such a great wedge game and such a great short game that he feels like if he misses it on some holes he still has the short game to get it up and down compared to maybe 70 percent of the field.

"It seems like he goes out at Augusta and plays sort of nearly carefree,” he added. “Obviously you can't play carefree, but he definitely is very aggressive and takes on some shots and feels like he has the short game to get away with it sometimes."