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Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy impress at Augusta as Corey Conners leads

Woods and McIlroy are fancied while Conners was a late entrant.

Tiger Woods made a solid start to his bid for a fifth Masters title on Thursday (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Tiger Woods made a solid start to his bid for a fifth Masters title on Thursday (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Canada’s Corey Conners, who was not even in the field five days ago, set the early clubhouse target on day one of the 83rd Masters as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy tried to make a similarly good – and vital – start.

Conners survived a six-man play-off to qualify for last week’s Valero Texas Open and went on to win his first PGA Tour title in San Antonio to secure the last place in the 87-man field at Augusta National.

The 27-year-old, who carded rounds of 80 and 69 on his Masters debut as an amateur in 2015, was in the first group out at 0830 local time (1330 BST) on Thursday and fired an eagle and three birdies in an opening 70 to continue his remarkable run of form.

Woods was a shot behind after a front nine of 35, with McIlroy level par after two birdies and two bogeys in his first eight holes as he seeks the victory which will make him the sixth man to complete a career grand slam.

Woods split the fairway on the opening hole with a drive of 317 yards, but after a mediocre approach to 30 feet, his birdie attempt never threatened the hole and he settled for a stress-free par.

Another ideal drive on the second was followed by an approach into a greenside bunker, but Woods got up and down for birdie and then saved par on the next after his second shot trickled over the back of the green.

Woods bogeyed the fifth after finding a fairway bunker off the tee on a hole lengthened by 40 yards for 2019 and missed from short range for birdies on the sixth and eighth, but holed from four feet on the ninth.

The former world number one was 33rd after an opening round of 74 before claiming his fourth green jacket in 2005, since when the last 13 champions at Augusta National were inside the top 10 after the opening round.

McIlroy bogeyed the first after a wild drive into the trees which was almost identical to his opening tee shot in the final round 12 months ago, but birdied the third and recovered from another bogey on the sixth to birdie the eighth.

Earlier in the day, Gary Player was able to maintain bragging rights after joining Jack Nicklaus in getting the 83rd Masters under way.

Player and Nicklaus continued their role as honorary starters by each hitting a tee shot on the opening hole, with 83-year-old Player producing the longest – and most accurate – drive by around 30 yards from 79-year-old Nicklaus.

PA

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