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Rory McIlroy can’t hide frustration after stuttering Masters opening round

McIlroy well off the pace after an opening round of 72.

Rory McIlroy struggled in his opening round© Getty Images


Rory McIlroy’s ninth attempt to secure the career Grand Slam already looks in deep trouble after a Masters opening round of 72 that courted both chaos and controversy.

It leaves him well down a leaderboard ominously top-heavy with the game’s superstars, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Victor Hovland leading the way after blistering 65s.

It’s the fifth consecutive year that McIlroy failed to break par on Augusta Thursday.

Yet the chaotic nature of that round – three bogeys, a double-bogey, five birdies – was only part of the story given his bizarre decision to grant ESPN an on-course interview while walking up the ninth fairway.

This is something that selected other players have committed to during recent PGA Tour events, but there was broad astonishment that the four-time major winner would do so during his opening round at Augusta.

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World number nineteen, Tom Kim, also co-operated with ESPN during his round and was going well at four under until subsequently blowing up with an ugly seven on the par five fifteenth.

The interviews were conducted by Trevor Immelmann, the 2008 Masters champion. On the ninth, he engaged with McIlroy about his yardage to the green, a brief over-and-back between them, McIlroy fully engaging in conversation.

Anchor, Jim Nantz, then thanked him for doing so, pointing out that those who’ve done it during previous PGA events have, generally, either won or finished well up that week’s leaderboard.

“I think that’s why I wanted to do it” Rory replies with a smile.

It seemed a moment out of kilter with circumstance, McIlroy already over par at the time while every scoreboard on the course could tell him that he was fast losing ground.

McIlroy’s recent Masters bids have been dogged by slow starts, albeit last year’s closing 64 catapulted him into second place behind champion, Scottie Scheffler.

He hasn’t won a major since the 2014 PGA Championships at Valhalla, yet his form has been outstanding through the last year, himself, Scheffler and Rahm essentially separating themselves from the rest of the game through remarkable levels of consistency.

Victory in the Tour Championship last August brought his third FedEx Cup win and the extraordinary pot $18 million.

But this felt like another galling no-show on a perfect, sun-kindled day in Georgia, the conditions all but perfect for the best players in the world to go flag-hunting.

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A birdie on the par five second lifted early hopes, but McIlroy instantly handed the shot back on three, pulling his drive left, then coming up short with a tentative pitch. The double arrived on seven, his tee-shot hooked into trees down the left and his attempted draw then squirming low behind a greenside bunker.

He duly flopped his third into the sand, eventually getting down in two putts.

Just inches separated him from eagle on the par five eighth, McIlroy on the green in two and a smart birdie on ten got him back to level par. But he instantly handed that shot back on eleven, clipping the branch of a tree with his second, having leaked his drive right.

Three pars followed before a brilliant third shot to fifteen set McIlroy up for a curled eight-foot birdie putt and another birdie immediately followed on sixteen, a sublime pitch-wedge just leaving him eight feet from the pin.

A round that could have gotten away from him had, to some extent, been salvaged here. But then a hooked drive on seventeen put him on the back foot again and, finding a fairway bunker on eighteen, he had to work hard to scramble a closing par., leaving him seven off the lead.

With an ominously grim weather forecast for the weekend, this felt like the day to go low.

And the calibre of names high on the leaderboard – Hovland, Rahm, Koepka, Young, Day, Lowry, Schauffele, Scott, Scheffler, Burns, Rose, Morikawa and Spieth – suggested that McIlroy had missed the bus.

Masters history suggests that a player outside the top ten on Thursday night is, essentially, a player already out of contention. McIlroy’s challenge now is to prove that perception wrong.

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