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A rookie can win Masters, says Graeme McDowell

Augusta: The Masters got off to an inauspicious — and wet — start on Monday.

With severe weather approaching the area, the Augusta National Golf Club suspended practice rounds before midday on Monday. “For everyone’s safety, we have asked patrons to clear the grounds and take shelter accordingly,” officials said in a statement.

Early in the day, mist shrouded the course and some golfers showed up early, mindful that their sessions might be cut short. The forecast calls for heavy thunderstorms through Monday night, with some clearing on Tuesday. Cloudy skies should continue through the middle of the week but there’s potential good news on the horizon — the weather could turn sunny for Thursday’s first round.

Meanwhile, former US Open champion Graeme McDowell believes a rookie could burst from the pack and win this week’s Masters for the first time since Fuzzy Zoeller’s shock victory on his Augusta debut in 1979.

With Tiger Woods absent with injury, the tournament is expected to be one of the most open for years and Northern Ireland’s McDowell would not be surprised to see some of the game’s lesser lights stealing the limelight.

“Some of the rookies today have a great chance,” McDowell said. “I played with Harris English a few weeks ago at Bay Hill. There’s a kid making his Augusta debut and if he was on the leader board come the weekend I would not be shocked. He’s long, hits his irons very high, very cool, and has a good short game and putter. You know he’s got the tools to win around Augusta. These young players are just so well equipped nowadays.

“They are better athletes and they’re fearless. They’re growing up in an era where they’ve watched Tiger Woods do things with a golf ball that seemed impossible.”

First-timer Zoeller famously won the 1979 Masters but it has not happened since at a tournament which usually ends with a big-name champion. “The belief level globally now for a young professional is so much better than it used to be,” McDowell said.

“It could be an amazing week for the game, with one of the new breed making a name for himself and coming out of the shadow of Tiger. He has taken the game to new heights but with him absent there’s a real chance for someone else to take the headlines.”