"Wide open" Masters set for a special week

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

Virtually all of the game's top players have arrived in good form at Augusta National where heavy rain during the event's build-up has softened the notoriously tricky greens, giving the more inexperienced participants a greater chance of success.

U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland will be seeking redemption 12 months after a final-round meltdown in which he squandered a four-shot overnight lead with a closing 80.

Woods has been installed as a 4-1 favorite by British bookmakers Ladbrokes with McIlroy next best at 5-1 but any talk of this week's Masters being a two-horse race has been widely rejected by their peers.

"Rory has never won here, Tiger has not won here since 2005," Westwood told reporters while preparing for Thursday's opening round.

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Donald agreed: "It's a little naive to say that they are the only two who have a chance to win around here. Just in the last three or four years of majors, I don't think there's been a multiple winner," said Chicago-based Donald.

"So obviously without one or two people dominating, I think there's a chance for a lot of people to win this week."

Mickelson, who has won three green jackets at a venue where his magical short game gives him an edge, believes the softer conditions will turn the opening major into a lottery.

"When the subtleties don't come out, the experience of playing here in the past is not as important," said the left-hander.

"I think there's a very good chance that a young player, inexperienced, fearless player that attacks this golf course can win if you don't need to show it the proper respect."

There is no question, however, that experienced campaigners generally thrive at Augusta National.

"Playing here for so many years now, this is my 18th year here, so understanding how to play this golf course has really helped me over the years," Woods said.

"I certainly am excited about playing and really looking forward to getting out there. I feel like I'm driving the ball much better than I have. I've got some heat behind it, and it's very straight."

"That was very special," he said. "The biggest challenge for me this year is that there are going to be more eyes on me, people wanting to see whether I can live up to the challenge. I have to go out there and treat it as a new tournament."

(Editing by Julian Linden)