Augusta (United States) (AFP) - Tommy Fleetwood is no one's favorite to win the 81st Masters, but the understated 26-year-old Englishman with the flowing locks and the tidy short game won't let that get him down.
Favorites have a habit of coming unstuck at the Masters and this year all eyes are on what the course holds for world number one Dustin Johnson, whose form puts him way ahead of all contenders here.
"But I have beaten him," boasts soft-spoken Fleetwood, who slid to around 200th in the world rankings last year before a run of superb results vaulted him inside the top 50 and earned him a place at the world's most elite golf tournament for the first time.
"He's getting good, that's for sure," joked Fleetwood of Johnson, 32, who captured his first major title at last year's US Open at Oakmont, and has won three events in a row in the run up to Augusta: at Riviera in February and last month's WGC Mexico and the WGC Match Play in Texas.
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"It's very very impressive what he is doing," said Fleetwood. "I think there are not been too many runs like he's had. I think Rory (McIlroy) did it when he won the Open and the PGA at Bridgestone. Tiger did it a few times. But he's in some pretty elite company at the moment with how he's playing."
Even so, Fleetwood, whose trademark long hair flows down from his baseball cap, beat Johnson by one stroke to win in Abu Dhabi in January and then was runner-up to the 32-year-old Texan at the WGC Mexico in March.
Still, a smiling Fleetwood said he does not expect that Johnson was running scared.
"I mean, he's not very massively on my radar. I can't really think about what he is doing," he said smiling.
"I'm sure he can do stuff that I can't and I'm sure if you sat here and asked him if he was worried about me, he wouldn't say..."
The son of a tarmac layer from humble origins in the northern England town of Southport says he is in with a chance.
"I'm not going to sit here an say I expect to win. But you never know," he said.
He said Augusta's course is "forgiving" off the tee and hard round the greens, where a precise short game comes in handy.
"That's what it comes down to, being precise with your irons," said Fleetwood, not among the big hitters on the tour. "It's not only the power hitters that win... and if you are on your game and your irons are very precise, then you can use it to your avantage."
In the meantime, he intends to put every possible advantage on his side by teaming up with past Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller at the traditional Par-3 Contest the day before Thursday's first round.
Not since Zoeller's 1979 triumph has a first-time Masters player won the title.
"He's the only (modern) one that has won the first time so I thought that might give me some vibes," he said.