Professional / PGA Tour

Rory McIlroy withstands windy afternoon to open Masters with 70

Rory McIlroy, pictured during the first round of the 2016 Masters
Rory McIlroy, pictured during the first round of the 2016 Masters (Getty Images)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Walking up the 15th fairway at Augusta National, Nike founder Phil Knight spied one of the white scoreboards that dot the famed fairways and blurted out for everyone to hear, “Hey, Gerry, did you see what happened to Day?”

Gerry would be McIlroy’s father and Day, of course, the World No. 1. “Unbelievable!” said Gerry, a look of amazement on his face.

Day had gone bogey, triple bogey, bogey from Nos. 15-17 to erase a brilliant 5-under start in a three-hole stretch.

Knight kept marching, a big smile on his face, and when someone mentioned Day’s Adidas affiliation, Knight gave a thumbs down. Everyone who witnessed the scene roared with laughter.

If you’re scoring at home it is Under Armour at 6 under (Jordan Spieth), Nike at 2 under (McIlroy) and Adidas at even par (Day) after Day 1.

McIlroy arrived for the final tee time at 2:01 p.m. and Spieth already had jumped to 5 under. But it didn’t fluster McIlroy, who stayed patient and stuck to his game plan even after being stuck in neutral at even par through six holes. McIlroy birdied the second and bogeyed the fourth before tacking on birdies at the seventh and ninth to turn in 2-under 34.

“If I can go out in 34 the next three days, I will be ecstatic,” he said.

McIlroy regularly outdrove his fellow competitors Bill Haas and Martin Kaymer by 30-plus yards, but he fanned his drive into the pine trees on 11 and was fortunate to make bogey.

In the low, syrupy golden sun of late afternoon, McIlroy blasted a 313-yard drive, drilled a short iron from 167 yards to 17 feet and rolled in the eagle putt. He was skating along at 4 under after a two-putt birdie at the par-5 15th when he made two costly errors. First, he took three putts from 65 feet at the 16th and then bunkered his approach from 158 yards at the last and for his fourth bogey of the round. Too many miscues, said Golf Channel’s Colin Montgomerie.

“He’s got to cut them out if he’s going to win this week,” he said.

That may be true, but McIlroy withstood the toughest of blustery conditions in Round 1 to record his second-lowest start in eight appearances in the Masters.

“If someone had given me a 70 on the first tee, I probably would have taken it,” he said. “It was a tricky day.”

Not for Spieth. The defending champion picked up right where he left off with a bogey-free 66 to claim a two-stroke lead after the opening round.

“He’s going to be tough to beat this week,” McIlroy said. “I feel I’m going to have to play good golf, but I feel there’s enough good golf in me that I can reel him in over the next 54 holes.”

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