NICK Dougherty is hoping to follow his old mentor Nick Faldo into US Masters folklore and enjoy a long love affair with the Augusta National.

The Shaw Hill professional makes his debut at the famous Georgian course on Thursday, courtesy of his superb seventh place finish at the US Open last year.

And after turning heads with his gutsy display at Oakmont - in which he led the Open after the first day - the 25-year-old is leaving no stone unturned in making another huge impression Stateside.

Staying in America following the WGC-CA Championships in Miami last month, Dougherty has spent the last fortnight at Augusta to give himself ideal preperation.

Not only that, but the former Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School student has been picking up course tips from none other than three-time Masters champion Faldo himself.

The two Nicks are no strangers, of course. It is 11 years ago that Dougherty landed the first of three successive Faldo Junior Series titles, before which he was taken under Faldo's wing and dubbed Little Nick'.

Although the pair's working relationship has simmered since Dougherty turned pro-fessional in 2001, the duo came together in Faldo's winning Seve Trophy team in Ireland last September, while Dougherty is on course to land his first Ryder Cup cap under him later this year.

But his immediate attention is on securing a fine Masters finish this week - and perhaps even slipping on the famous green jacket come Sunday evening.

Fuzzy Zoeller is the only golfer in history to win at Augusta on his first attempt, the American defying the odds back in 1979, but Dougherty is taking inspiration from Faldo, winner in 1989, 1990 and 1996.

"I'm going to enjoy the whole Masters experience," said Dougherty.

"I'm glad to finally start my education there, obviously because of the relationship I've had with Nick Faldo and the fact he's been and done it at the Masters.

"It would be lovely to win there, absolutely. And people have shown that they can win there at the first attempt. Fuzzy Zoeller proved that almost 30 years ago.

"Justin Rose did very well last year and came so close. So I'm very much looking forward to it and beginning what will hopefully be a love affair for me with the course.

"But I've not got any real expectations. I'm just going to go out there, play my shots, and see where it takes me.

"The most important thing is putting myself in contention. That's what I ask of myself at every tournament and this one is no different."

But Dougherty knows the importance of preparation as he looks to build on his growing reputation, enhanced in no small matter by last year's Alfred Dunhill Links triumph at St Andrews.

Along with working closely on his techincal game with Blackburn-based coach Damian Taylor, he has also seen famed American sports psychologist Bob Rotella.

And, not wanting to be overrawed by Augusta, he's spent enough time getting familiarised with the course and understanding every last nuance to each of its 18 holes.

"I've never played there before, so I've got to familiarise myself with the course, and spend some quality time there," added Dougherty.

"I've got to make sure I'm comfortable with it, and that I feel ready come the start of the Masters."

"I need a feel for the course and know where I could hit problems. I don't want to have to deal with that during the tournament."

And Dougherty has picked up plenty of tips after bending Faldo's ear.

"I'm not shy of doing that," he said. "I phoned him and he said he was more than happy to have a chat.

"It's self-evident that Nick and the Masters almost go hand in hand - when you think of Augusta you think of him."

By his own admission, Dougherty admits his run-up to the Masters has been pretty low-key.

Aside from a joint seventh spot at the Qatar Masters back in January, his form 2008 form has been less than special, with little to suggest he could seriously challenge Tiger Woods and golf's other big-hitters at the August National.

"My game has been a bit quiet lately," he said. "I've just not got any momentum. After winning, my expectation level changed a bit and that never works with me."