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PGA Tour Confidential: Is Rory McIlroy ready to challenge Tiger Woods at Augusta?

Rory McIlroy
Steve Dykes / Getty Images
Rory McIlroy shot a Sunday 66 to finish along in second at the Texas Open. It was his best result of the 2013 season.

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

This week we're happy to welcome a special guest to the panel, rising LPGA star Sandra Gal.

1. Rory McIlroy made the most of his last-minute Masters cramming. He played his best tournament of the season in San Antonio and finished second. Are you convinced that McIlroy has turned the corner and what do you expect from his this week at the Masters?

Sandra Gal, LPGA professional golfer: I think Rory is slowly building up his confidence again. The second-place finish is a stepping stone on his way back to winning. But I don't think he's ready to win the Masters this year because he will have to face lots of expectations, and this may put a lot of pressure on him again.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I have to admit that I was surprised by his play. That is not the course on which to be trying to find your game, especially when the wind starts blowing. That said, Rory has to be riding a wave of momentum heading into Augusta. Things just got a lot more interesting.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I expect McIlroy to finish top 15, which is a lot higher than I expected before San Antonio. Nice to see his name on a leaderboard.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory has to feel good about his game, but don't forget he's had his heart broken two years running at the Masters. I think he's still a little intimidated by that tournament. So the first round is massive for him. If he can ride the momentum from Texas and open with a good score I could see him winning, maybe easily. But if he's a little shaky on Thursday the doubt will creep back in and it could be another lost trip to Augusta.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I expect him to show up. After that, who knows? Still not sure how much he believes in everything. If things go well early, he could build confidence and play well. If he struggles early he could crumble. My guess: He'll finish T26.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, No doubt Rory has turned the corner. And even if he didn't play well this week, he'd still be one of the favorites this week. McIlroy has too much talent to ever count him out.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: There is no corner. There is on and off. He was on last week in Texas. What that means for this week at Augusta is ... nothing.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It's nice that Rory played well just so we can quit talking about his adjustment to new clubs, a new home, a new country, big money and all that. He's had a couple of months to get ready. He ought to be close. And that's what I took from Valero Texas Open, that Rory is close to playing well. I expect him to make the cut in Augusta and play his way onto the leaderboard by the weekend ... but not win.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, I'm buying that he's turned the corner, but he's still not one of my top five picks to win this week. His best Masters finish is a T15 in 2011, when he melted down in the final round. The Texas Open was just what he needed, and I think he'll play well, just not well enough. I see a finish in the 8-15 range.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, It's less important what we expect of McIlroy at the Masters than what he now expects of himself. I think we can assume that his expectations -- as distinct from his aspirations -- are a lot more ambitious now than they might have been a few weeks ago. And confidence going into a major counts for a hell of a lot. I'd be surprised if McIlroy isn't within striking distance next weekend. He'll certainly be closer to the lead than any of us.

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