Rory McIlroy was satisfied he achieved the solid start he was hoping for after an opening-round 70 at the Masters left the Irishman four shots off the lead at Augusta National, writes Simon Lewis in Augusta.
McIlroy trails overnight leader and defending champion Jordan Spieth but he is in a much better position than a year ago when over the first two rounds he conceded 12 strokes to the American star and left himself too much of a mountain to climb, eventually finishing six shots back in fourth place.
Despite a bogey at the last following a trip into a greenside bunker, McIlroy was happy with his position going into Friday's second round, when he will tee off at 4:05pm Irish time.
“It was good. If someone had given me a 70 for the first day I probably would have taken it,” he said.
“The (wind) conditions were tough out there. They were tricky and it was tough to hole putts. The par threes were tough but I played the par fives the way I wanted to.
“I was a little bit disappointed with the finish and the loose shot on 18 but I just need to go out there (on Friday) and try and get those two shots back as quick as I can and then stick to my gameplan which is to take advantage of the par fives. If I can do that I won’t be too far away at the end of the week.”
World number three McIlroy's round featured some solid putting, the facet of his game that has most undermined his quest to add to the four major championships he has already won and which many feared would prevent from winning the Masters title he needs to complete the career grand slam of majors.
He sank a seven-foot birdie putt at the par-four seventh and a six-foot birdie putt at the ninth, giving a shot back at the 11th, only to move into the mix with an eagle at the par-five 13th, when he drained a 17-foot putt. A 10-footer for birdie followed at 15 but McIlroy closed with dropped shots at 16 and 18.
“It was one of my better starts at Augusta. I am in the top 10 and as I said at the start of the week it’s important to make a good start. It would have been nice to have been a couple of shots better but I think 70 in those conditions was pretty good.
“I was a little angry coming off the 18th green but if I look back on it I hit some good shots, missed some opportunities and it could have been a bit better but I need to stay patient and realise that my score was good today and I am not too far behind the guys at the top of the leaderboard.”
Given Graeme McDowell's previous relationship with the Masters, only three made cuts in eight starts, his level-par 72 was a welcome start to his ninth appearance at Augusta National, even if he bogeyed the last.
He had been one over at the 12th but rallied to one under before falling back at the 18th.
“Through 10 holes I was thinking here we go again,” McDowell said. “I was two over standing on the 11th tee and at that point I would have snapped your hand off for level par. I was actually a little disappointed to bogey the last but generally my attitude has been good this week and I am just trying to have some fun and enjoy this golf course.
“Where else would you want to be from a golfing point of view? I managed to hit some nice shots and made a few putts so it was pretty good.
“The lads are doing well. It was great to see Shane (Lowry) up there on the board early doors and that kind of spurned me on a little bit and as I said I made some decent putts after that and hit enough good shot to have me really up for getting back out there tomorrow.”
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