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Monday 5 December 2016

Rory McIlroy makes steady start to career grand slam hopes

'Now I can just relax and try and find my rhythm': Rory

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland waves to the crowd as he finishes out the18th hole during first round play of the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Georgia April 9, 2015
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland waves to the crowd as he finishes out the18th hole during first round play of the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Georgia April 9, 2015

MOST eyes were on Rory McIlroy as he began his bid to complete the career grand slam at the US Masters at Augusta National.

McIlroy who is looking to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four grand slam titles by claiming a first green jacket shot an opening round 71.

The Holywood star had to work hard on a scorching morning but will know that his challenge is very much alive.

McIlroy finished his round four shots behind the early pace-setters in the clubhouse - Charley Hoffman and Justin Rose.

Taking advantage of prime scoring conditions, McIlroy birdied both par 5s on the back side and finished with a one-under round that left him solidly in contention.

Sure, there were a few shaky shots along the way. An errant drive into a creek at the par-5 second hole, forcing him to scramble for par. A sloppy chip at the 11th, which led to the second of his two bogeys.

All in all, though, no complaints.

"It's nice to just get on with the tournament, nice to get that first hole out of the way. Now I can just relax and try to find my rhythm," McIlroy said. "I'm pretty satisfied with the first day."

A player known for always wearing a green glove - Hoffann - had his eyes on a matching jacket after making the ideal start to the 79th Masters.

scared

Hoffman hit the first shot of the tournament proper after Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player continued their role as honorary starters, but only after securing autographs from Nicklaus and Palmer.

And four hours later Hoffman was signing for a five-under-par 67 after finishing eagle-birdie-par-birdie to set the earliest possible clubhouse target.

"I was sort of scared," Hoffman said of getting Nicklaus and Palmer to sign Masters flags to be auctioned for his own foundation.

"Should I ask them, should I not ask them? My mind wasn't really on golf really, I was watching those guys. Gary was gone but I'll try at some point to get Gary to sign as well.

"Come the first tee I was a little nervous, hit a little hook over in the ninth fairway and was able to get back over to the green and settled nerves with a little two-putt par. I was able to make birdie on the second and third and that sort of calmed the nerves and I was ready to go.

"This is only my second Masters and obviously to follow those guys off the tee, it's pretty lucky and special. I'm honoured that the Masters gave me that opportunity and I sort of took advantage of it. I like playing early and I like playing at a decent pace, so I knew this was going to benefit my game pretty well."

Hoffman finished 27th on his only previous Masters appearance in 2011 and secured his return with his third PGA Tour title in the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico in November.

Justin Rose conjured up a round that would have made his boyhood idol Seve Ballesteros proud and earned him a share of the first round clubhouse lead alongside Hoffman with some front-runners still on the course including Ernie Els.

On a day when the two-time Masters champion from Spain would have turned 58, Rose emerged from a mini slump to card a five-under-par 67 at Augusta National.

Ballesteros, who inspired a generation of European golfers, died in 2011 of a brain tumour.

Englishman Rose, 34, recalled the encouragement he received from Ballesteros during his Masters debut in 2003.

"I remember Seve coming up to me and putting his arm around me, just giving me an encouraging couple minutes of pep talk," said Rose.

"He was always very good to me out on tour (and) sort of a hero of mine growing up."

Rose arrived in Augusta seemingly out-of-form, but he warned not to read too much into his recent disappointing results.

"I'm a major champion and won great tournaments. I knew my game was there; it just had not shown up yet," said the 2013 US Open champion, who has never missed a cut in nine Masters appearances.

"I didn't have a ton of form but it doesn't surprise me."

Fatigue got the better of reigning champion Bubba Watson during a protracted opening round at the Masters on Thursday as he hit errant tee shots on the last two holes to card a one-under-par 71.

The American left-hander, who is seeking to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only players to win consecutive green jackets, did well to salvage par at the 17th where he chipped in from just off the green.

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