Rory McIlory makes late surge as winds whip up stiff Masters test

Shane Lowry hits 72, as Charley Hoffman defies the conditions to finish seven-under

Masters leader Charley Hoffman, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy discuss their first day at Augusta National.

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Rory McIlroy missed an intended fist-pump from Jon Rahm, but that was one of the few mis-hits from the world number two on the homeward run of his opening round in US Masters as he kept alive his quest to complete the career Grand Slam.

Unable to buy a putt for the front nine, McIlroy was three-over-par standing on the 13th tee and battling gamely to stay in the mix before transforming his fortunes in bagging three birdies in his closing six holes to sign for a 72, level-par.

It left McIlroy alongside Shane Lowry in tied-12th, seven shots adrift of leader Charley Hoffman, the 40-year-old Californian who defied windy conditions to open with a stunning 65.

After McIlroy followed Rahm’s tee-shot in close on the Par 3 16th, the young Spaniard tried to fist-pump McIlroy . . . . . but the Northern Irishman was so focused on his own shot that he didn’t see him. It was a good sign. Finally, McIlroy had found the zone.

McIlroy had to wait until the Par 5 13th for his first birdie, where his approach came up short but fortuitously stayed on the bank in front of the green from where he got up-and-down for a birdie. It kick-started his round, and further birdies on the 15th and that tap-in on 16 ensured a revival that saw him sign for a 72. Seven shots back of Hoffman, but very much in the hunt.

“For that ball to stay up (on 13)and make birdie from it was a huge bonus. I am not complaining. I did my best out there and I gritted it out. I would have ripped somebody’s hand off for a 72 on the 10th tee . . . . it puts me in a good frame of mind,” said McIlroy, adding:

“I think short game-wise and mentally, I’d have struggled with both those things to put together a back nine like that in previous years. But I have done the work on the short game. I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to put the head down, show a bit of grit and determination and I was able to do that.”

McIlroy described Hoffman’s round as “incredible,” but insisted: “They say they don’t give green jackets out on Thursdays and there is no winning post there. I think I’m in a good position with three rounds to go and we will see how it goes.”

Lowry had an eagle putt on the 13th to move to three-under, but the putt shaved the hole and a tap-in birdie before back-to-back bogeys on the 15th and 16th rocked him briefly . But he regained his composure to finish par-par for a 72 that left him ready to kick on.

“If you had given me that on the first tee I would have taken your hand off. It was very tough out there. I played as good as I have played in a long time. It was disappointing to bogey 15 and 16, I hit good shots on those two holes and got a gust of wind with my lay-up on 15 which left me too far back. Then, I didn’t get the gust on 16 and (was left on the top tier).

“I just need to go out (in the second round) and keep doing what I am doing. I drove the ball great and my iron play was really solid. My chipping felt really good for the first time in a long time. I am really happy with that,” said Lowry.

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