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Masters 2017: Resilient Rory McIlroy recovers from poor start to get into mix

 

By Adam McKendry

Rory McIlroy produced an impressive back nine at Augusta National to recover and record a level-par opening round of 72. A disappointing front nine from the Holywood man was quickly erased by a three-under back nine that brings him back towards the top of the leaderboard heading into the second round.

With World No.1 Dustin Johnson withdrawing injured before teeing off, the mantle fell upon McIlroy to step up as the highest ranked player in the field.

>>US Masters Live Leaderboard - Tee-off times - Course Guide<<

On the front nine the Ulsterman had to use his short game to bail himself out on a few occasions, but on the back nine he showed signs of Major-winning form as he fought back.

It means McIlroy is seven shots off the pace, set by Charley Hoffman, who blew away the rest of the field with a staggering opening round of seven under.

It wasn't an ideal start for McIlroy, who recorded bogeys at the first and third, and his failure to get a birdie on the relatively easy par-five second would have been considered another shot dropped.

But for an impressive 11ft putt on the fourth he would have dropped a third shot in four holes after leaving a chip quite short from the back of the green.

Two simple pars followed, which looked to have steadied the ship somewhat, before another impressive up and down on the seventh saved another par.

But after failing to birdie the second, he managed to perform even worse on the next par five, bogeying the eighth after driving into a fairway bunker and then missing his par putt.

A chance for birdie went begging at nine, and then another great breaking putt rescued a four at 10 as McIlroy entered the dreaded Amen Corner three over.

Indeed, it took two more pieces of short game wizardry to save two more pars - a beautiful pitch securing a par at 11 before another great putt on 12.

The first birdie finally came on the par-five 13th, though not without drama as McIlroy seemed to hit it into the creek in front of the green with his second, only for the ball to stick to the bank, allowing him to make up-and-down for birdie.

His second came two holes later on the 15th, where he holed a nice 13ft putt to take him back to one over.

Then came his shot of the day: an exquisite approach to the par-three 16th that nearly yielded an ace, but instead gave him an easy tap-in birdie.

Chances for birdies at the final two holes came and went, but after his front nine showing, the four-time Major winner will be delighted to head into the second round at level par.

The big story of the day was the outstanding performance of Hoffman, who tore apart the revered course and recorded a remarkable seven-under-par 65.

The 40-year-old American turned in two under after making successive birdies at the eighth and ninth, before producing an excellent back nine.

The leader birdied the par-three 12th before rattling off four consecutive birdies at 14, 15, 16 and 17 to produce a fantastic round.

"It was an unbelievable feeling walking up 18," Hoffman said. "I'm really happy with how I played.

"It's supposed to be windy again tomorrow and you're just trying to hit fairways and greens out here. I'm just going to try and make a few more putts and hold on to that lead."

Hoffman's closest challenger is William McGirt, who was the only other person to break 70 on the opening day after he finished with a round of 69, three under par.

Lee Westwood is the closest of the European challengers at two under, while fellow Englishmen Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick are at one under.

Meanwhile, former champion Jordan Spieth suffered more Masters misery with a second quadruple bogey in his last two rounds.

Spieth held a five-shot lead with nine holes to play 12 months ago, only to record a seven on the par-three 12th after hitting two balls into Rae's Creek.

And although the 23-year-old managed a solid par on the same hole in the opening round, he then ran up a quadruple-bogey nine on the 15th.

Spieth's approach to the par five span back off the green into the water and after taking a penalty drop, he hit his fifth shot over the back and followed up with a poor chip and three putts from 30ft.

Asked about the 15th, Spieth said: "You think of it as a birdie hole and unfortunately I still thought of it as a birdie hole today and it really isn't when you lay up.

"I didn't take my medicine and hit it about 15ft right with a club that takes the spin off. I struck the shot well, I just hit the wrong club."

Elsewhere, defending champion Danny Willett produced a battling performance to save his first round on a highly eventful opening day of the 81st Masters.

Willett recovered from being three over par after two holes to card a first round of 73 at a windswept Augusta National.

Masters scoreboard

65 Charley Hoffman

69 William McGirt

70 Lee Westwood (Eng)

71 Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner, Justin Rose (Eng), Andrew Sullivan (Eng),

Russell Henley, Kevin Chappell, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Sergio Garcia (Spa)

72 Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Ernie Els (Rsa), Paul Casey (Eng), Matt Kuchar, Thomas

Pieters (Bel), Rory McIlroy (NIR)

73 Danny Willett (Eng), Scott Piercy, Rickie Fowler, Fred Couples, Jon Rahm (Spa), Justin Thomas, Marc Leishman (Aus)

74 Jason Day (Aus), Pat Perez, Stewart Hagestad (a), Brendan Steele, Brooks

Koepka, Rod Pampling (Aus), Daniel Summerhays, Larry Mize, Kevin Kisner, Ryan

Moore, Bubba Watson

75 Adam Scott (Aus) Gary Woodland, Adam Hadwin (Can), Webb Simpson, Si Woo Kim (Kor), Billy Hurley III, James Hahn, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Brandt

Snedeker, Jordan Spieth, Bill Haas

76 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Ross Fisher (Eng), Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Branden

Grace (Rsa), Kevin Na, Sean O’Hair, Mike Weir (Can), Ian Woosnam (Wal), Russell

Knox (Sco), Jimmy Walker

77 Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Daniel

Berger, Jose-Maria Olazabal (Spa), Sandy Lyle (Sco), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Henrik Stenson (Swe)

78 Brad Dalke (a), Francesco Molinari (Ita), Jeung-Hun Wang (Kor), Martin

Kaymer (Ger), Vijay Singh (Fij), J.B. Holmes, Jim Furyk, Mark O’Meara, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Curtis Luck (a) (Aus), Jhonattan Vegas (Ven)

79 Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Roberto Castro, Angel Cabrera (Arg)

81 Toto Gana (a) (Chi)

82 Scott Gregory (a) (Eng)

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