AUGUSTA, Ga. — This was supposed to be the Masters when Rory McIlroy exorcised the demons remaining from his back-nine collapse in 2011 and finally won a green jacket to complete a career grand slam.
He might well still do that, but Thursday’s opening round at Augusta National left him in danger of being upstaged by Tiger Woods and a host of other notables who took advantage of the soft conditions on a day McIlroy didn’t.
A bogey at the 18th hole after his approach landed in the gallery along the left side of the green was his sixth of the day, ruining five birdies and leaving him with a 1-over 73.
“I thought the course was there,” a disappointed McIlroy said. “It’s soft and there’s not much wind. I made five birdies. That wasn’t the problem. I just made too many mistakes. That was the problem.”
McIlroy came into his 11th Masters having posted seven straight top-10 finishes on Tour this year, including a win at the Players Championship. He also has five straight top-10 placings at the Masters. He was viewed as the man to beat this week. So far, he is beating himself.
A bogey on the opening hole, followed by a birdie at the par-4 third set the tone for the day. But what really hurt McIlroy were bogeys at the 17th and 18th after birdies at the par-5 15th and par-3 16th, where he made a 25-footer from above the hole. But he missed the greens at 17 and 18 and couldn’t get up and down.
“I can accept mistakes if I’m trying and it’s not a mental error where I got indecisive,” McIlroy said. “But six bogeys out there is a little too many and I’m going to have to tidy that up over the next couple of days.”
When McIlroy finished his round, the leading score was 3-under, giving keeping him with striking distance of much of the field heading into Friday’s second round.
“I’m surprised people haven’t went lower,” McIlroy said before Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and others began to race up the leaderboard. “It’s out there. You can make six or seven birdies in a heartbeat. It sort of makes me feel better. But you can’t rely on others. I’m right in the golf tournament. But I could have shot a much better round today and I didn’t.”
McIlroy said he had trouble reading the speed and breaks on the softened greens.
“I over-read a few early on and then I was under-reading them coming in,” he said. “I have to work on that a little bit. Whenever the greens are little slower, they don’t break as much. The greens are maybe 2- or 3-feet slower than they usually are from being too soft from the rain. They will get faster as the week goes on. It’s just a matter of adjusting.”