On a sun-baked Augusta National layout where danger lurked at
every corner because of swirling winds and quickening greens, the
Northern Irishman eked out a one-under-par 71 to sit three strokes
off the first-round lead.
Though he bogeyed the par-four last after three-putting from the
lower tier of the green, the 24-year-old double major winner was
delighted to end a difficult day for scoring under par.
"They set the course up very difficult. Everyone needed to stay
patient today. You had chances on the par-fives, and there were some
tougher holes early that you could maybe take advantage of," McIlroy
told reporters after mixing four birdies with three bogeys.
"But apart from that, the greens were getting firm on the back nine,
the pin positions were difficult, you just really had to be wary of
them. Anything in red numbers today was good."
The Northern Irishman, who squandered a four-shot overnight lead
with a closing 80 at the 2011 Masters to tumble back into a tie for
15th, was overall happy with the quality of his approach shots into
Augusta National's severely sloping greens.
"For the most part, I felt like I put my ball in the positions they
needed to be in," former world number one McIlroy said. "It was just
one of those days where it was tough to get it close to the hole.
"The greens are fast already. By Sunday they're going to be pretty
dicey. I think every year you play practice rounds here, then
there's just a little extra fire in the course come Thursday.
"It's a little firmer, a little faster. It's to be expected here."
McIlroy, who has yet to finish in the top 10 after five appearances
at the Masters, felt his three-putt bogey at the 18th exemplified
"There's putts you hit that look like they're going in and just hit
the edge and all of a sudden they're four or five feet by," he said.
"And you really grind on those coming back. 18 was a prime example
[to top of second column]
"I hit a really good shot actually just to the bottom tier, hit
my first putt up and it just slid by the right side and just kept
going a little bit. It got a little low and I had like a five or
six-footer coming back.
"It just didn't turn as much as I thought it would and it caught the
side of the hole. I still had a good three, or four-footer coming
back for a three-putt."
McIlroy, whose struggles on and off the course for much of his 2013
campaign are now behind him, felt the firm and fast conditions at
Augusta National tightened up the field.
"It's not just about power then, it's about precision," he said.
"It's about putting your ball in the right place and it becomes more
of a mental challenge than anything else, just playing to your
"It almost becomes like chess, where you're just making these moves.
That hasn't been my forte in the past, but I'll learn to love it
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; editing by Frank Pingue)
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