Why the odds are against Rory McIlroy after his slow start to the Masters

A fast start has proved to be almost essential in winning the first major of the year

In no major has a good start proven more imperative than the Masters.

In the past 20 years of the tournament, only Tiger Woods (twice) and Phil Mickelson (once) have been winners having being outside the top 10 on the first day.

And in two of those cases, Mickelson in 2004 and Woods in 2019 were only a shot off the top 10 after the first day – tied 15th and five shots off the lead, and tied 11th and four shots off the lead, respectively.

McIlroy is tied 37th on even par after his opening round of the 2023 Masters, seven shots behind Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Brooks Koepka. Of those, Rahm has won five times in the past six months, while Koepka has won four majors since 2017. They won’t be easily caught.


Looking at the other names in the top 10 – Cameron Young, Jason Day, Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Shane Lowry, Adam Scott, Gary Woodland, Sam Bennett, Sam Burns – it is clearly a mammoth task giving players of this quality a four to five-shot advantage after the opening round.

The first round has been the ruin of McIlroy in recent years. His 72 on Thursday is actually the best opening round he has recorded in the past five years: 73 (2019), 75 (2020), 76 (2021), 73 (2022) and now a 72 (2023). However, conditions were easier this year than they were in previous years – 36 players were under par this year compared to just 12 in 2021.

In 2020, Dustin Johnson was tied for the lead after the first round and went on to win. In 2021, champion Hideki Matsuyama was tied second after the opening day, last year Scheffler was tied third.

The only big outlier was Tiger Woods in 2005, shooting a two-over 74 on a day he putted into the water on the 13th hole. He was seven strokes behind the leader Chris DiMarco.

What followed was one of the greatest stretches of golf at the Masters as he made an incredible 16 birdies in the space of 30 holes, including seven birdies in a row from the seventh hole in round three, to take charge of the tournament. He eventually ended up in a shootout with DiMarco, a round famous for his chip-in at the 16th on Sunday.

That was a Masters heavily affected by bad weather also, which is forecast for the next few days, which will give McIlroy some hope of pulling off a Tiger-like hot streak to surge up the leaderboard.

“I think when you’re chasing, it’s probably ‘the harder the better’ because it plays easier for everyone,” McIlroy said. “The more difficult the course is, I think that’s probably favourable conditions for chasing a little bit or trying to catch up.”

Quite the catch-up needed for McIlroy again.

David Gorman

David Gorman

David Gorman is a sports journalist with The Irish Times