Most of us somehow hoped that Rory McIlroy would find his magic touch just when he needed it the most. As it transpired it was the usual slow major start
The stats will show that this was Rory McIlroy’s worst start to a Masters as he opened with a 76. Six months ago he began with that error-strewn 75 before turning it on with three rounds in the 60s to tie for 5th, this was more a tough day of baked greens and tough pins.
But the frustration, given this is Rory and this is Augusta, remains the same. This is the first major since Pete Cowen has joined the camp, McIlroy’s admitted that he’s got caught up in the whole Bryson distance thing and the results have offered little to get us all revved up for that career Grand Slam but the annual disappointment never fails to not niggle.
There were a couple of swipes right early on, at the 2nd and 3rd, but the first four holes all resulted in some settling pars. For the record there were then six bogeys – one where he managed to locate his dad Gerry’s leg with his recovery from the pine straw at the 7th – and they all came in the space of eight holes from the 5th.
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The real low points were the three putts at the 9th, when he looked to have done the hard bit, and a shove right at the 13th where Rae’s Creek looked the likely destination from the moment it left his club. But then came a two-putt birdie two holes later and three pars meant he was round in four over.
“Honestly I’m quite encouraged with how I hit it on the way in. 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 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. If you make bogey 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,” explained McIlroy.
“It’s not as if I haven’t done these things before. It’s like you get into these bad habits and that feels normal, and then you get it back into position where I’ve been a million times before and it just feels a little different, right. More than anything else around here, it’s trusting that on these side slopes and having these balls that are two feet above you. That was sort of what happened on 13. On the range off a flat lie, yeah, perfect, I can do it every time, but then once you get on the course and you get these different lies and different shots and different winds, that’s the litmus test right there, and it still didn’t feel quite 100 per cent.”
As for the good stuff, there was plenty coming down the stretch that pleased the 31-year-old.
“The wedge shot on 14, the drive on 14, drive on 15, 7-iron on 15, 9-iron on 16, drive on 18, second shot into 18. I was starting to get into a rhythm. I wish I could have kept going.”
As for the one shot that is going to make all the headlines he didn’t seem overly concerned by his father-son mishap.
“In fairness I was trying to turn it. It was a perfect shot; it was dead straight. But I think he was OK. He didn’t limp away, he walked away pretty swiftly, so that was alright. He just needs to go and put some ice on – maybe I’ll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him.”
Since 2015 McIlroy is a combined +32 in the opening round, the good news is that he is -64 for the next three rounds.