Dustin Johnson hits out of a bunker on the second hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament. Photo: Matt Slocum/AP

Five "Players to Watch" at the 81st Masters tournament, the year's first major men's golf championship that begins Thursday at Augusta National:

Dustin Johnson (USA)

The world number one has won three events in a row and no player has made the Masters his fourth consecutive victory since 1940. Johnson won at Riviera in February to become the world's top-ranked player and last month captured World Golf Championship Mexico and Match-Play titles. Won his first major title at last year's US Open at Oakmont. Johnson, 32, makes his eighth Masters appearance. He best finish was a share of fourth last year.

Rory McIlroy (NIR)

Second-ranked McIlroy is a four-time major champion and needs only the Masters to complete a career grand slam. He took the 2011 US Open after a Sunday back-nine disaster cost him the Masters crown. The Northern Ireland star also won the 2014 British Open and 2012 and 2014 PGA Championships. The 27-year-old makes his ninth Masters start with a top finish of fourth in 2015.

Jason Day (AUS)

Third-ranked Day won his first major title at the 2015 PGA Championship. Became interested in golf watching Tiger Woods win the 1997 Masters. Withdrew from WGC Match-Play two weeks ago to be with his mother, Dening, as she underwent lung cancer surgery. She had a portion of her left lung removed but Day learned Monday she would not require chemotherapy and might be at Augusta National to see him at the weekend. The 27-year-old Queenslander makes his seventh Masters appearance with his best finish a share of second in his 2011 debut.

Phil Mickelson (USA)

The five-time major winner and three-time Masters champion would become the oldest winner in Augusta National history with a victory on Sunday, two months shy of his 47th birthday, breaking the mark set by Jack Nicklaus at age 46 in 1986. "Lefty" won the Masters in 2004, 2006 and 2010 and makes his 25th Masters appearance. He has also won the 2005 PGA Championship and the 2013 British Open.

Jon Rahm (ESP)

Hopes to become the first player to win on his Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. The 22-year-old qualified by winning at Torrey Pines in January for his first US PGA Tour title, firing a final-round 65 to go from three shots down to a three-stroke victory.

AFP