Steady start by Maguire as Ko is in fight to make cut at Chevron Championship

McIlroy struggles to opening round of level par 72 at Valero Texas Open

As is tradition on the week ahead of the US Masters it was the turn of the women to lead the way in the first Major of the year – the Chevron Championship – and, for those eyeing up the title, one of the biggest surprises came in how world number one Jin Young Ko, who'd talked of a Grand Slam ambition ahead of the event, was left in a fight simply to survive the cut.

While American Jennifer Kupcho and Australian Minjee Lee took a share of the clubhouse lead with six-under-par 66s, and Leona Maguire got off to a steady if unspectacular start with an opening round of level par 72, it was South Korean Ko's uncharacteristic birdie-free round of two-over-par 74 that caught as much attention.

A winner of six of her last 12 events on the LPGA Tour, Ko – who hasn’t missed a cut in over a year – suffered two bogeys in a head-scratching display. “My putting wasn’t good on the green, I couldn’t see the break as much or [work out the] speed. Everything was wrong. I don’t know what happened.”

Maguire, the world number 20, got her quest for a breakthrough Major title off to a strong start in moving to two-under on her round with a birdie on her opening hole, the Par 5 10th, before dropping a shot on the short 13th and rebounding with back-to-back birdies on the 18th and first. However, the run home proved disappointing with dropped shots on the third and fifth holes.

Approach play

Kupcho, another seeking a maiden Major win, was on fire for much of her round with her approach play and putting working in tandem. She had managed nine birdies on her card through 16 holes, including four in a row from the 11th, only to slip shots on the inward run with bogeys at the 15th and 16th.

For Rory McIlroy the decision to play the Valero Texas Open for the first time in eight years – as a fine-tuner for next week's Masters – didn't produce the desired effect as he struggled to an opening round of level par 72 made up of six birdies, six bogeys and six pars in a topsy-turvy round to say the least.

There was a bit of everything in McIlroy's round. From wild drives on the 18th where his playing companion Jason Day was signalling right with his arm from the get-go to poor approach play and missed short putts, to the other extreme of good iron play and holed putts. The problem was that McIlroy didn't know what was going to happen next.

McIlroy's 72 left him in the position of heading into the second round needing improvement just to make the cut, after a first round in which a couple of other Europeans – Scotland's Russell Knox and Denmark's Rasmus Hojgaard – made impressive starts with the carrot of a late invitation to the Masters at play for either with a win.

Clubhouse lead

Knox, a former Irish Open champion, claimed the clubhouse lead with a superb 65, while Hojgaard signed for a 66.

“I’m obviously thrilled with the round. I took care of business off the tee, which was nice. This course, if you get off line, it can be very penal. I drove the ball well. My iron play was solid again, and I got a couple of those good luck moments that kind of got my momentum.

“Nice chip-in on seven, a good up-and-down on six, a great up-and-down on nine; those were kind of the key parts that allowed me to settle into the back nine and have some easier birdies,” said the Scot.

Hojgaard looked set to claim the outright clubhouse lead until a double-bogey six finish on the ninth. Other than that it was a brilliant display of golf.

“You go out there and just try to play as good as you can, and if you’re playing well and you’re up there on the leaderboard, it’s just great. I mean, it’s not something you walk around thinking of in the first round. I was just trying to stay calm and just stay present and it worked well on 17 holes today,” said the Dane.

Graeme McDowell, meanwhile, struggled to an opening round 74.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times

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