Rory McIlroy certainly got off to a strong start on his quest to earn his first title at the Masters.
The young superstar opened play with a one-under 71, tying his second-best Thursday at Augusta National (he also shot a 71 in 2012) after his memorable 65 in 2011. It was also a performance that put to rest some of the ghosts of opening rounds at majors in 2013, as Justin Ray of ESPN tweeted earlier in the day:
Rory McIlroy is -2 through 7 holes today. McIlroy was a combined +10 in the 1st round of majors in 2013.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) April 10, 2014
Here's a look at the live leaderboard:
McIlroy will probably be kicking himself after the final hole, however. With a chance to putt for par on the 18th, he instead just pushed his shot wide, the first time in his career he needed to three-putt at Augusta, as Dan Jenkins of Golf Digest shares:
Rory McIlroy, playing to his weakness, finishes with a three putt to get in at one under par.— Dan Jenkins (@danjenkinsgd) April 10, 2014
Added Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph:
Three-putt at the last by McIlroy took the shine off an otherwise promising round. Same problem at 8 and 12. One-under 71, 3 shots off lead— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) April 10, 2014
McIlroy certainly started strong, however, largely because he kept hitting the greens, as Ray noted:
Dating back to last week, Rory McIlroy has hit 21 of his last 27 greens in regulation. 12-for-15 today.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) April 10, 2014
Golf Central rounded up the relevant stats:
Rory McIlroy: 9 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens, avg. 293.5 yards off tee, 34 putts… 71 pic.twitter.com/np1WOlvl3P— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) April 10, 2014
McIlroy was on his game early, with birdies at No. 3 and No. 5. He was two under through seven holes and looked poised for a big day. Unfortunately, he bogeyed No. 8 and No. 12, slowing down his positive momentum as a result. But birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 had him poking around the top of the leaderboard heading into the 18th.
The final moment from Day 1 will surely leave a bitter taste in McIlroy's mouth. Still, he seemed pleased with his result, if not pleased with the course, as he told Kyle Porter of CBS:
Rory: "I think anything under par was a good score. They set the golf course up very difficult for a Thursday."— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) April 10, 2014
He added, via ESPN UK:
All in all, however, McIlroy felt good on the day, as he told RTE Sport:
Rory McIlroy: "I feel like I’m better prepared than I ever have been...I felt like I did a good job putting the ball in the right places."— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) April 10, 2014
Of course, when it comes to McIlroy at the Masters, it will always be about how he finishes, not how he starts. He famously shot an 80 on Sunday in 2011, ruining his chances for a green jacket after shooting 12 under in the first three rounds.
But McIlroy's opening round bodes well for his prospects moving forward. He could have easily shot a 68 on the day, and really should only need to make minor adjustments going forward. There was far more to like than dislike on Thursday.
And with the experience of a collapse on this course behind him—and two wins at majors since—McIlroy also has the maturity and poise to handle any adversity along the way. After Thursday, it isn't a stretch to think that McIlroy will be hunting a green jacket come Sunday.