Padraig Harrington believes Rory McIlroy can win the Masters at the first attempt.

But England’s Lee Westwood has called for the teenager to be given time to enjoy his debut, insisting: “He shouldn't have those expectations on him.”

Ever since Tiger Woods roared to that amazing 12-shot victory in 1997, golf fans have been waiting for someone to stand up and challenge him.

Young players such as Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and Charles Howell have been touted as the men to take on Woods and all have failed.

Now it’s 19-year-old McIlroy’s turn to play the part of the Great White Hope plotting his way to glory through the azaleas and dogwoods.

But can he really hope to take on the Tiger in his lair or challenge the likes of Phil Mickelson, Harrington or Geoff Ogilvy for green jacket glory this week?

Harrington thinks he can, explaining: "I actually do believe it is possible for Rory to win the Masters, first time.

“He's got a good caddie on the bag in JP (Fitzgerald), who has been there numerous times. There won't be a pin position or a shot JP won't know about.

“He could get really excited and love everything about it and play the best golf he's ever played.

“But above all, he has to be true to himself. A cautious strategy isn't him and if his approach isn't good enough this year, let it moderate over time.”

Logic says that it is far too soon for McIlroy to conquer Augusta’s subtleties and his aggressive style and the obvious gaps in his short game would suggest that he will have to bide his time before he triumphs in the Cathedral of Pines.

Just ask Westwood, who felt physically sick as he came down the stretch with the lead in 1999 and slumped to eighth.

The Englishman just wants McIlroy to be given the chance to enjoy his debut and not be weighed down by unrealistic expectations.

Westwood said: “You are wrong to put him under this pressure. He should be turning up to his first Masters and enjoying the experience.

“I imagine he has always worked damned hard and playing at Augusta has always been a dream of his.

“There is no point in having a dream like that and going there with the pressure of expectations, when you should be there enjoying the experience of driving down Magnolia Lane and playing in the par three tournament and making two on 12 and stuff like that.  He's entitled to that.”

But McIlroy himself is going to Augusta with high hopes of becoming the first rookie to win since Fuzzy Zoeller 30 years ago.

He said: "I'm thinking to myself, 'I'm pretty good, and I deserve to be out here.' I feel as if I'm one of the best and that I can just go out and play.

"I'll be coming in there as probably one of the top 20 players in the world, so you've got to have to think, if you play well enough, you've got a chance to win.

“And that's what my goal is at the end of the week, to play well enough to give myself a chance on Sunday, to have a chance of getting a green jacket.”

McIlroy saw the course for the first time last Sunday week to get the wow factor out of the way.

He said: “It was cool. Obviously it was great to drive up Magnolia Lane, go out of the back of the clubhouse and see 18th green, ninth green, 10th tee box first tee box, second green. It’s like a big garden.

“It was great to get around and see it before the actual week. It was just good to get over the whole ‘it’s Augusta’ thing.

“If they set the pins in normal positions it’s a very scoreable golf course. But if they set the pins in difficult positions you need to play away from them and it almost makes you play a bit negatively, you’re playing away from pins and doesn’t make it very exciting."


He shot 37 on both nines and was delighted to see he could carry the ball over the tall tree on the corner of the par-five 13th and then amazed that the ball was so far above his feet for his second.

He said: “I thought the first you really needed to hook it around the corner but you just take it over that tree on the left.

“I then flew a four iron, way right of the hazard. It’s alright out there. It’s a tough shot from the fairway. You want to try and cut it into that green but the ball is so far above your feet it’s tough to do.

“I like tree-lined golf courses. You can see shots. I don’t know if it fits my eye but there’s a bit of definition. You can sort of see shots and mix it a little easier, shape it and see what you can do.

“You are trying to leave yourself under the pin all the time, to leave yourself the easiest putt. If you can do that it can make your job a bit easier. But if you do miss it on the wrong side you just have to play to the top of the slope and just let it feed down. It’s different than most places we play every week.”

Westwood knows the pitfalls of playing aggressive golf and that could be McIlroy’s downfall this week. He made the same mistake.

Westwood said: “I am not sure Augusta is a great place to go and play aggressively. I've tried it and it results in a lot of eights. Growing up, Greg Norman was a hero of mine. And he was a hero of mine because he was a very aggressive golfer. And you only have to look at Greg's record, and while it was fantastic, he never managed to win around there.”

No-one knows McIlroy’s game better than his coach, the Bangor pro Michael Bannon, who's been training him since he was three.

Bannon shot 78 off the back tees, going to the turn in a nervous six over before coming home in level.

And he reckons that McIlroy can handle the hype and expectation thanks to his great mental strength.

He said: “Rory has the ability to win any tournament he plays in. He has all the physical abilities and the golfing abilities. It’s just having the ability to handle that aura and the expectations as well.

“He has the game to do it. If he goes out there and holes a few putts, who knows what might happen.

“Sometimes, when his back is against the wall, he has done some amazing things. Whenever he needs it, he can pull it out of the bag. That’s his great strength, his mental strength.”