Sports

McIlroy six off the pace after opening round at Masters

AUGUSTA, United States, Apr 8Rory McIlroy stumbled six strokes adrift in Thursday’s opening round of the 86th Masters, his bid to complete a career Grand Slam in trouble after shooting a one-over par 73.

The four-time major winner from Northern Ireland shared 31st after 18 holes at Augusta National, bogeys at the par-4 14th and par-3 16th spoiling a solid start to leave him well back of South Korean leader Im Sung-jae.

“I don’t really care where I’m at on the leaderboard, or it doesn’t matter,” McIlroy said. “I played well. I hit the ball great from tee to green for the most part. So I’m pleased with that.”

The 32-year-old European standout, chasing his first major title since 2014, also salvaged a tough par at the 18th to provide some spark ahead of a morning charge Friday.

“It was good. I played really well,” McIlroy said. “I hit 12 fairways and 14 greens and just didn’t really get a lot out of the round.

“I had a putt on 14 to go to 2-under for the day with the par-5 to play, and I three-putt that, and that sort of halted any momentum I had.”

McIlroy finished his day at Augusta on the practice putting green trying to find form he hopes will make the scoring difference.

“I feel like it was the worst I could have shot today. I feel like I played really, really well,” he said.

“I’m encouraged with how I played so I’ve just got to try to get more out of the round tomorrow.”

McIlroy needs only a green jacket to become the sixth player to have won every major title at least once, a club that includes Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

This week marks McIlroy’s 14th career Masters start and eighth attempt at completing the career Slam at Augusta National.

McIlroy dropped his third shot inches from the cup to set up a tap-in birdie at the par-5 second hole, but chipped eight feet past the cup at the par-3 sixth and made bogey.

McIlroy holed a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-4 11th, but missed a six-foot par putt at 14 and blasted out of a bunker at 16 and failed to convert a seven-foot par putt.

Things looked dire again at 18 when McIlroy found a greenside bunker, but he blasted out to six feet and sank the putt to salvage par.

McIlroy said his decision to play “negative” golf, not chasing so many pins in favor of safer shotmaking on several holes, paid off for him.

“I hit it to a lot of the middle of the greens and made a lot of easy pars,” McIlroy said. “I wish I could have gotten more out of the round, but it was pretty stress free.”

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