By Frank Pingue
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Dustin Johnson will try to extend his stellar run at this week's U.S. Masters where Rory McIlroy hopes to complete the career grand slam and Jordan Spieth seeks revenge after last year's epic meltdown.
The year's opening major, which begins Thursday at Augusta National, is always the most heavily anticipated of the four and, with a myriad of compelling storylines bubbling during the tournament buildup, this year's edition is rich with promise.
Johnson, who is looking to become the first golfer not named Tiger Woods to win four consecutive PGA Tour starts since Ben Hogan in 1953, is the man to beat along with McIlroy and Spieth but many challengers are ready to pounce should they falter.
"I've got a lot of confidence in my game right now, especially with the way I've been playing the last few tournaments," said Johnson, who took over as world number one in February.
The 32-year-old American has all the tools necessary to tame the Augusta National layout, most notably his prodigious length off the tee which could ultimately be a difference maker on a course that has been softened by rain.
World number two McIlroy, who won the last of his four major titles in 2014, had a quiet start to the year after sitting out six weeks with a rib injury but is upbeat having played 99 holes at Augusta National the last two weeks.
"I've realised that the more I can get comfortable with this golf course ... and the more I can get comfortable in the environment and the surroundings, the better," the 27-year-old Northern Irishman said.
McIlroy needs a victory at Augusta National, where he has top-10 finishes in each of the last three years, to complete the career grand slam of golf's four major titles.
Twice major winner Spieth, 23, already has a Green Jacket and perhaps should probably have another if not for a disastrous sequence at the par-three 12th.
But the unflappable Spieth, who has a win and two runner-up finishes in his three Masters starts, is eager to move on.
"I'm excited about the opportunity ahead, which is now I can go back and really tear this golf course up," said Spieth.
Other contenders include gallery favourite and three-time winner Phil Mickelson, red-hot Spaniard Jon Rahm and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama who is trying to become the first Japanese man to win a major.
(Editing by Andrew Both)