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In the last month alone, McIlroy and Masters champion Adam Scott have lost leads in the final round to players outside the top 100 in the world - McIlroy to Russell Henley in a playoff at the Honda Classic, Scott to Matt Every at Bay Hill.

As for Woods and Mickelson?

Golf’s biggest stars for the last two decades, with seven Masters between them, are winless this year. Mickelson has a 2-1 advantage over Woods in a most peculiar category: withdrawing in the middle of a tournament. He had to quit at Torrey Pines and San Antonio, both times with a back injury.

It’s almost as if golf is waiting for a new star to emerge.

“You look at the winners on tour the last few months,” McIlroy said. “It’s been a different guy each week. We’ve seen players in the past like Tiger and Vijay (Singh) winning nine, 10 times a year. Haven’t seen much of that since. You know, it’s harder to win out here. There’s so many more guys that have chances to win every time they tee it up.

“It would be nice to see someone sort of break away,” he said. “I hope it’s me.”

McIlroy has assumed the role as betting favorite now that Woods is out of the Masters. Even at 24, he knows his way around Augusta National. Three years ago, Boy Wonder took a four-shot lead into the final round only to close with an 80. He bounced back to win the U.S. Open by eight shots that summer, and then added an eight-shot win at the PGA Championship a year later. And after a troublesome year with new equipment and off-course distractions, his game appears to be back on track.

Scott and FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson both have a chance at the Masters to replace Woods at the top of the world ranking. Neither has won a tournament this year. In fact, Jason Day is the only player from the top seven in the world to have won this year, and he hasn’t played in the six weeks since winning the Match Play Championship because of a thumb injury.

It’s been a strange season heading into the first major.

When he was just starting out his pro career, Scott played a practice round with Woods before the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which Woods won by a record 15 shots. Scott put the notion of being No. 1 out of his head. Now it’s different. Equipment is better. Players are better. What once seemed unfathomable is now within reach.

“There’s a different benchmark that may not seem as high,” Scott said. “I think the depth of talent, that talent pool is much bigger now. And I can see maybe because that benchmark doesn’t seem as high, a lot more guys are working harder to get there. Because more guys think they can.”