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Friday, May 7, 2021

McIlroy encouraged by finish despite highest Masters opening score

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Rory McIlroy put on a brave face to say he’s ‘encouraged’ by his last four holes despite producing a highest Augusta National opening score with a 76 on day one of the 85th Masters.

In the bigger 18-hole picture, McIlroy presented a portrait of despair managing just two birdies and slumping 11 shots behind England’s Justin Rose, who after being two-over par after seven holes, sensationally played the closing 11 holes in nine-under par for an eventual seven-under par 65.

Rose heads to day two four clear of the duo of Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman. They were the only three players to break 70 whereas last November there had been 24 players breaking 70 with three tied at the top on seven-under. Shane Lowry opened with a superb 71.

Yet despite Rose’s standout round, it would already seem the green jacketed Augusta members have let the golf world know that no-one will leave Augusta National on Sunday night getting anywhere close to Dustin Johnson’s 20-under par victory tally of just six months ago.

Johnson had his own woes finishing bogey, par and double-bogey in a two-over par 74.  Last November, with winter fast approaching, ‘DJ’ had just four bogeys over the four rounds of the rescheduled 2020 Masters on a rain-softened Augusta but after just one round in dryer Spring weather, he’s had a double and three bogeys.

Also struggling in the firmest and faster conditions since Aussie Adam Scott won in 2013 was fellow Masters winners Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia tied with McIlroy at four-over and in-form Lee Westwood, with his son Sam on the bag, signing for a 78.

McIlroy managed just two birdies but posted six bogeys in a round that was a shot more than last November’s then highest Masters opener of a 75. But what did lift McIlroy’s spirits was playing his last four holes in one-under.

“Honestly I’m quite encouraged with how I hit it on the way in,” said McIlroy. “I hit some loose shots out there, but after hitting the 6-iron in the water on 13, I hit some really good shots coming in, so I’m encouraged by that.

“I’m going to go to the range here and work on it a little bit more, but it was just one of those days where I wasn’t very efficient with my scoring. It’s like you make bogey out there and then you’re sort of fighting against momentum, but if you make a birdie then you can sort of get going, and just one of those days.

“But I hung in there, hit some good shots coming in. I could have made a couple more birdies, but it’s not as if anyone is going really low out there. So, I’ll do a little bit of practice and hopefully feel a little more comfortable tomorrow, go out there and shoot a good one.”

McIlroy teed-up in his 13th straight Masters and true to its ‘bad luck’ tag, the day was devoid of any luck for the now World No. 12. He got off to a run of four straight pars but it was mostly despair in a nine-hole stretch from the fifth to 13th holes where McIlroy sandwiched a lone birdie among five hurtful bogeys.

McIlroy missed a six-footer for bogey at five and then had all of 15 spectators stepping out of the way of an errant second shot right into the par-3 sixth hole that resulted in a second bogey.

He played ‘army golf’ down the seventh with his tee left into the pines and then his second right with his ball thumping his Dad on the calf – “he just needed some ice,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy was now three-over heading to the par-5 eight where finally he got off the bogey train in only just missing a 10-footer for eagle before tapping in for birdie Sadly, he then three-putted the ninth from 12-feet to drop to three over and then four-over in dropping a further shot on 14.

And to continue the unlucky 13th theme, here was the sad-looking sight of McIlroy raising his arms either side of his face to hide his head in sending his second shot at the par-5 13th, a hole where he has eagled twice in his Masters career, straight into Rae’s Creek that guards the front of the green. Then to add insult to injury, McIlroy’s 12-foot downhiller for par lipped-out on him for a bogey ‘6’.

If there was any plus, he played the closing four holes in one-under thanks to a 15th hole birdie where he two-putted from 20-feet behind the flag. A check of McIlroy’s stats reveals he hit nine of 14 fairways, just 10 greens and the hurtful tally of 33 putts. McIlroy’s prior poorest Augusta opening score was last November in shooting a 75 and then playing the company of Johnson.And McIlroy’s score of 76 is a sixth highest in his 47 rounds of Augusta National.

Full report on Shane Lowry to follow…

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