It might have taken Rory McIlroy 13 holes for his first birdie of his opening round but three birdies in his final six holes helped turn an indifferent showing into a respectable level par 72 on a bright but blustery opening day at Augusta National.
The result left McIlroy trailing seven shots behind American Charley Hoffman who stormed four clear of the field with a seven under par 65 which is the largest first round lead since 1955 as he put on an exhibition on the back nine coming home in 31.
“I have put a lot of hours in on the putting green over the last few months, specifically on putts inside 10 feet,” said McIlroy who single putted seven times coming home with par saves at the 10th, 11th and 12th the key to his day.
The world No 2 looked to be heading for another Masters disaster when he slumped to three over 39 through the turn but the 13th was a huge turning point as his approach stuck on the bank of the hazard and stayed up instead of toppling back into Rae’s Creek.
He took advantage carding a birdie to kick start his comeback..
“My short game really saved me today – 10, 11 and 12 were huge,” he said. “To get those three up and down – not that I had much momentum – but to at least have something going into that stretch where I could pick up a couple. Thankfully I was able to birdie the two par fives and another one coming in. Even par was a great score at the end of the day and I am really happy with it.”
“I am not complaining. I did my best out there and I gritted it out.”
On a day when just 11 players broke par, McIlroy admitted his younger self might have struggled to keep his cool and salvage a 72 in such conditions. “I think so. I think short game wise and mentally, I’d have struggled with both those things to put together a back nine like that in previous years.”
“I have done the work on the short game recently and I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to put the head down, show a bit of grit and determination and I was able to do that today.”
The wind is to remain strong into round two and sitting in a tie for 12th McIlroy was more than happy with the days work.