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In his last 12 official events, McIlroy has won twice and has finished in the top 3 eight times. Only once has he been out of the top 10. Woods‘ recent record isn’t quite that good, although he has given himself more chances at winning than the last two years. Woods comes into the Masters after his first PGA Tour win 30 months, a five-shot win at Bay Hill.

That doesn’t hurt.

“I think it’s huge for him,” Phil Mickelson said of Woods. “And I think he’s going to have a great week, because he’s obviously been playing well, and to have won heading in gives him a lot of confidence. Sucks for us, but ….”

The bookies made Woods the favorite after his win at Bay Hill _ an amazing turnaround considering only a month ago he left Doral in the middle of the last round because of soreness and swelling in his left Achilles tendon.

But they have never strayed too far from McIlroy. Never mind his age, or that this is only his fourth Masters. What he showed through 54 holes last year, and how he bounced back, is enough for everyone to take notice.

And so much for those demons on the 10th hole at Augusta; McIlroy conquered them with more humor.

“I mean, I can’t believe how close the cabins are. They are only 50 yards off the tee,” McIlroy said as the room filled with laughter. “But no, look, it’s great to be able to laugh about it now.”

It wasn’t always that easy.

He cried on the phone with his mother after the Masters. There were days of reflection, when McIlroy realized he must not have been ready to win a major. He noticed when he watched videotape of the final round that the bounce in his step was missing. He was looking down, not up. Joy gave way to stress.

Seven putts on the 11th and 12th holes are what did him in. Still, most remember the 10th, and for good reason. Some players barely notice those cabins left of the 10th fairway. Not many can imagine a player behind stuck behind them.

“I played here last week, and I did ask my caddie where exactly Rory was,” Luke Donald said. “And he goes, `You know, there wasn’t a single person that doesn’t go by here that asks where Rory’s ball was.’ You’ve obviously got to be a bit unlucky to take such a bounce.”

Not even McIlroy is sure what happened on that shot, much less the rest of the day.

“It was such a blur,” he said. “It was really hard to remember. It wasn’t just the tee shot. It was way before that. It was just how I approached the whole day. I went through it a million times. It’s something that I learned from, and I quickly forgot about and moved on. And moved on pretty well.”

A year ago, he came to Augusta National hopeful of winning. Now, he is all business. Winning is the priority. He brought three friends from Northern Ireland with him last year. His parents are here this time.

McIlroy didn’t get into specifics on his phone conversation with Norman, which was two days after the Masters.

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