As Rory McIlroy continues to impress, and with the first major of the year just around the corner, we take a look at five reasons why the Northern-Irishman may just be on course for a maiden Masters title.

1: Best pre-Masters form of his career.

McIlroy has finished in the top 10 in all of his last six starts – a stat he couldn’t boast in the lead up to any of his other Masters appearances. The 27-year-old has a victory at the Tour Championship and a play-off defeat at the BMW SA Open to fall back on, but most notably, on his return from injury, he mustered a tied seventh finish at a World Golf Championship in Mexico amongst the best, and most tournament-fit, players in the world.

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In 2012 he did head to Augusta National with one win, two runner-up, one third and one tied fifth finish in his five prior starts. However, he now has an extra four Masters starts under his belt…

2: Augusta-Hardened 

This year will mark McIlroy’s ninth appearance at the calendar’s first major. There’s no doubting the intricacies and technicalities that need to be branded into players to really get to terms with the Augusta course and it all takes time. The speed of the greens offer a challenge set to test the nerve of even the most collected characters and the more trips through Amen Corner the better.

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The added experience shows, too, in the improvement of his placing over time. He’s made the top 10 in his last three starts in Georgia with a tied eighth, a fourth and a tied 10th place finish having previously failed to make the top 10 in the five appearances prior.

You feel that each year is a step closer, if not the final step, to that absent green jacket.

3: Rested and raring to go

This may seem a counter-intuitive point, but the injury setback from January through to March may well have done McIlroy good. Two months off certainly did not hinder the world-number-three. After a narrow play-off defeat at the BMW SA Open, his return from a rib injury has seen the tied seventh at the WGC-Mexico Championship followed by a push for the title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational having only just scraped through the cut after 36 holes.

So, with little sign of rust after a lay-off, and two more weeks to refine his game in preparation, McIlroy may be heading to Augusta more fresh than he’s ever has before this year.

4: The Illustrious Grand-Slam

McIlroy currently has four major titles from two PGA Championships, one US Open and one Open Championship. What’s missing for him to become just the sixth career-grand-slam winner of all time, though, is a green jacket.

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It’s one of few tournaments McIlroy has started so frequently and never been victorious in.

What better reason to put an end to the wait and truly cement himself amongst the game’s greatest?

5: His mind is set

There’s been no hesitation from McIlroy in confessing that winning this event is his primary goal for 2017. When he sets his mind on a victory he’s rarely bettered – take the 2016 Irish Open for example – and don’t expect anything different at what he’s described as ‘the biggest tournament of his year’.

“That’s my main goal and will continue as my main goal until I win it,” he told the Guardian last month.

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“I’ve no problem saying that. It’s the one major I’m yet to win. As long as I’m good for that, I don’t care what it takes,” he added.

Nothing else matters to him this year. He’s targeting all his work at the Masters and he’s coming in hot. He won’t be denied easy, that’s for sure.

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