Golf's unusual problem is that it has too many good players and too few truly great ones.

The best struggle against intense competition to achieve the holy state of dominance demanded by modern audiences. Nowhere are they under more pressure to attain global superstardom than at Augusta.

The Masters treats its champions equally but some are more equal than others: hence the pre-tournament ubiquity of Jack Nicklaus, who has exhausted his reservoir of Augusta tales, and the memories of Tiger Woods' brilliance, especially in his maiden Masters win 20 years ago.

The legend of Arnold Palmer is kept alive long after his death, with Phil Mickelson, the veteran crowd-puller of American golf, telling us: "You feel his presence, his display, his showcase in the champions' locker room. His jacket, clubs, scorecards from past victories; his spirit is here. It always will be here."


Here in the Georgia Eden, they like to claim Masters champions are one long continuum: the same story, with different names.

"You get treated like royalty here as a past champion," says Mickelson, who is trying to emulate Nicklaus' final victory at the age of 46, 23 years after his first.

Beyond this world of enamelled grace, though, there is a raging need for golf to place a new Nicklaus or Woods on the menu of attractions for floating sports 'consumers'.

Woods is now so far out of his old iconic role that he is reduced to tweeting plugs for his book as part of his thank-you message to the club for its Champions' Dinner. The 80 Masters tournaments have been won by 50 players, 32 of whom are alive. And while the post-Woods era has featured many fine victories and notable storylines, no single player has been able to 'own' the first major of the year, or golf generally.

Twenty years after the Woods phenomenon was born, and in a week when Seve Ballesteros would have been 60, the hammer again falls on Rory McIlroy to become only the sixth player to complete the career grand slam, alongside Nicklaus, Woods, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player and Ben Hogan.

For three years, this has been the tournament's top storyline. While McIlroy talks of the "stress" involved in chasing a first Green Jacket, Ernie Els ups the ante.

"I would really be shocked if Rory didn't win at least four," Els says. "He's just built for that place."

You can be "built for that place" but still keep missing out, which is part of golf's devilish charm, and its weakness, from a superficial marketing perspective. Not since Woods in 2002 has a world No 1 carried that statistical mark of esteem into the Butler Cabin. Dustin Johnson has won seven of the 17 tournaments he has contested since his US Open victory and heads the betting list, but Augusta has a habit of trashing good form and starting everyone at zero.

Jordan Spieth, who has finished tied for second in three Masters outings, is in the unusual position of being cast as a tortured soul on account of his brief back-nine unravelling on the final day last year. But at 23, he remains a possible era-shaper. Two years ago, he matched Woods' winning record of 18 under and has struck a single tournament record of 28 birdies. Those are formidable foundations for a potentially great career.

Spieth's predicted duel with McIlroy has yet to take off, but his confidence remains intact. Last week in Houston, where he missed the cut, he said he would "strike fear into the others" with his Augusta record. This kind of talk is rare in golf. Spieth's description of McIlroy as a "badass" also fits the zeitgeist of social media terminology, if not Augusta's usual lexicon. Spieth imagines going "mano-a-mano" with McIlroy, who is still the name most commonly cited when people wonder who golf's next megastar could be.

Jason Day and McIlroy are the two supposed Masters champions in waiting.

"This course is very well suited for them," says Mickelson. "They drive the ball a long way. They putt it great. This is going to be a course where they'll continue to have those opportunities. And I would be surprised if over the course of the next 10, 15 years, they didn't win it because they are just too good not to."

Bubbling under are Jon Rahm, attempting to become the first Masters rookie to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and the world's best player under 23; Justin Thomas, the coming man of American golf, and perhaps even England's Tyrrell Hatton. McIlroy, Johnson, Day and Spieth, however, form a major roadblock, even if none has quite been able to dominate the majors.

The previous champions in action are Danny Willett, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Phil Mickelson, ngel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson, Mike Weir, Vijay Singh, Jose Mara Olazabal, Mark O'Meara, Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Larry Mize.

That sprawling list alone points to the possibility of good players interjecting for a single year at the expense of the big names talked about so obsessively.

The immense depth of talent in golf militates against the emergence of a single charismatic global statesman. Which tells you again just how good Woods was.