Sport

McIlroy relieved to stay in contention after day one at The Masters

McIlroy battled back into the mix after a slow star at Augusta
McIlroy battled back into the mix after a slow star at Augusta

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry endured challenging opening rounds as they started their challenge at The Masters, with the two Irishmen heading into the second day lamenting what might have been on a windy day at Augusta.

McIlroy was installed as favourite to win the first major of 2017 after world No.1 Dustin Johnson pulled out as he failed to recovery from the back injury he sustained after a fall down the stairs at the home he is renting on Wednesday.

It seemed as if McIlroy may have been affected by the dramatic exit of his chief rival as he struggled to get any momentum on the opening 12 holes at Augusta, but the 27-year-old who is seeking to complete a career Grand Slam by winning the Masters for the first time found his form on the back nine.

Three over at the turn, McIlroy clawed back that slow start as he birdied the 13th and 15th holes, before a glorious approach to the short 16th hole allowed him to get back to even par.

"I'm really pleased. After nine holes if someone had said I would shoot even par I would have ripped their hand off," said McIlroy.

"I had some good up and downs at 10, 11, 12 and then I had the chance on some scoreable holes.

"I'm pleased with my day's work, l didn't have my best stuff but even par is a good score.

"I hit some suspect chips on the front nine but the more greens I missed the more I got into it. My chips on 11 and 12 were really good shots and give me confidence going into the next few days.

"I hope I can go and make some more birdies."

Lowry’s (above) colourful round of 72 featured five birdies and five bogies, with dropped shots on the 15th and 16th especially agonising as the Offaly native, who displayed his annoyance by tossing his ball into the water after the second of those bogies.

The sparkling opening round of 65 from American Charlie Hoffman sees him head into day two at the 2017 Masters with a commanding four shot lead, with his compatriot William McGirt also in the mix in second place on three under par.

"Anytime you're leading the Masters is an unbelievable feat. It was good feeling going up that 18th hole," said Hoffman.

"I watched the leaderboard all day, I look up there to see what others are doing and where they are making their birdies.

"It's supposed to be windy again tomorrow and out here you just then hit fairways and greens, hopefully hit your putts and keep that lead."

Lee Westwood is always a consistent performer at the Masters and his opening round of 70 included a run of five successive birdies on the back nine, with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia among those on one under par.

Hoffman’s sparkling start have given him a head start on the chasing pack, but McIlroy and Lowry are in reasonable shape to make a move up the leaderboard on Friday after an opening day when they were not at their best.

Leaderboard

-7 Charley Hoffman

-3 William McGirt

-2 Lee Westwood

-1 Phil Mickelson, Russell Henley, Kevin Chappell, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, Sergio Garcia

Selected others: E Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry,

+1 Danny Willett

+ 3 Jordan Spieth