Rory McIlroy struggles in Masters opening round as Augusta shows its bite
Rory McIlroy's Masters charge got off to a frustrating start at Augusta National as small errors led to him carding a one-over par opening round of 73 in Georgia.
On a day where scoring was less than stellar on the whole - with Justin Harding, Adam Scott and Jon Rahm's three-under par rounds the hallmark - McIlroy found himself unable to kickstart any real momentum in his game.
The World No.3 is four shots off the early lead and will need to make significant improvements if he wishes to complete the Grand Slam of winning all four Majors this week.
From the off he was behind the eight ball, flaring his opening drive into the trees on the right and having to pitch out just short of the green. From 50 yards shy of the pin, he couldn't make up-and-down and opened with a bogey.
A delightful approach on the par-four third did bring him back level par with his first birdie of the tournament, his 38-yard pitch shot allowing him to roll in a four-footer to gain back the stroke.
McIlroy's next bogey, at the par-three sixth, was a tad unfortunate as his tee shot just failed to hold the plateau containing the back-right pin position and rolled all the way off the front of the green, from where he was unable to convert for par.
But, as has been his forte, McIlroy bounced back with a birdie at the par-five eighth that was so close to being an eagle as his chip from just off the green narrowly missed the hole, before an impressive par save on the ninth after overhitting the green, sending him to the back nine level par.
A slow start to the back nine cost him, however, with a failed sand save on the 10th costing him a shot after a dreadful approach, while an even worse chip shot on the 11th saw him card back-to-back bogeys.
McIlroy almost rectified it one hole later at the par-three 12th, however his 17-footer for birdie agonisingly slid wide, but he did move back to one-over at the par-five 13th with a two-putt birdie after reaching the green in two.
Despite the improvements, the World No.3 did pass up a glorious chance to get another birdie at the 14th when a magnificent approach shot to eight feet wasn't converted, although he did immediately bounce back from that disappointment by gaining a shot at the par-five 15th.
He saved his best for the 16th, McIlroy leaving himself a 35-foot putt for birdie on the par-three after his tee shot but rolling it in to get under par for the first time in his round, celebrating with a fist pump to the crowd.
However, a disappointing finish saw the Holywood man drop two shots at the 17th and 18th ensured he would finish over par, finding trouble off the tee at 17 and then three-putting, before failing to make up-and-down from the edge of the green at the last.
No player has won the tournament after being outside the top-10 following the opening day since Tiger Woods in 2005. In order to complete the Grand Slam this year, McIlroy (tied-49th) will have to buck that trend.
Tiger Woods is just one shot off the lead after his two-under par opening round of 70 as he combined four birdies with just two bogeys to sit one behind playing partner Rahm, along with 2013 champion Scott and South Africa's Harding.
As it stands, the three-under par total would be the lowest round to lead the Masters after day one since 2007, when Brett Wetterich and Justin Rose tallied the same score after 18 holes.
Meanwhile, Ireland's Shane Lowry suffered a horror start to the tournament as he shot a six-over par 78 to start his Major quest, which included seven bogeys and just a single birdie.
Belfast Telegraph Digital